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

Sunday, May 27, 2018

100 Years Ago: Operation BLÜCHER Is Launched

German Troops Crossing a Canal, 27 May 1918 (IWM Photo)

Despite the disappointing results of Operations MICHAEL and BLUCHER, Ludendorff never wavered from his insistence that the defeat of the British  Army was the primary aim of his offensives.  While the planning proceeded for the diversionary operations in the south,  planning proceeded for the death-stroke against the British.  The preliminary plans for HAGEN  (another attack in  Flanders) and WILHELM (effectively  a renewal of MICHAEL were complete by May 17th Three days later Ludendorff made the final decision that HAGEN would be the main attack. 

Open preparations for the WILHELM attack would continue as a deception operation. But OHL also informed Army Group Crown Prince Rupprecht that any attack in the northern sector could not be launched before late June. In the meantime, Army Group German Crown Prince, commanded by the Kaiser's son, Crown Prince Wilhelm, would conduct Operation BLÜCHER in the French sector. That attack would proceed from the Chemin des Dames ridge line south to the Vesle River, with the intent of making the Allies think Paris was under threat and forcing them to redeploy their reserves from the north.

British Artillery Retreating, 27 May 1918

Launched on 27 May 1918, the BLÜCHER attack once again achieved initial overwhelming success. In fact, it was too successful. Rather that halting the offensive at the line of the Vesle, as the plan called for, Ludendorff was seduced by what appeared to be the opportunity for a quick and easy victory. He first continued the attack to the line of the Ourcq River, and then beyond. By the time the BLÜCHER offensive finally reached culmination, the lead units of the German Seventh Army were on the Marne River. In the process, however, OHL withdrew five of the carefully husbanded divisions for the HAGEN attack and committed those units to the BLÜCHER fight.


Opening and Final Positions for Operation BLÜCHER

Operation BLÜCHER resulted in more territorial gains than even Operation MICHAEL had, but once again tactical success created major operational problems for the German Army. The Seventh Army now held a huge salient with exposed and vulnerable flanks, and its front line trace had expanded from 60 kilometers to 100 kilometers. Even worse, the Germans had no good rail lines into the new salient, making it extremely difficult to supply the forces there. And finally, General Foch had not been deceived by the attack. The majority of the French reserves north of the Somme remained in position. For those reasons, the Germans had no other options than to continue attacking in the south, to improve their logistical position and to attempt to draw away some of the French reserves.

Source: "A Battle Never Fought -- Operation HAGEN, August 1918," MajGen David Zabecki, PhD, Relevance, Winter 2011

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Water and the War in the Desert


Across the open desert a small column of mules is flinging a brisk trail of dust up to the brassy sky. They are in strings of three, and a native drabie is hanging on to the lead rope of each string. Each mule has a squat tin tank hooked on either side of his pack caddie. Two of these pakhals, as these rope-netted tanks are called, will fill the water-bottles of a platoon.

Camel-Borne Pakhals

At intervals along the column a British soldier strides along, bare-armed and bare-kneed, his shirt open over his brown chest, one sun-blackened arm through the sling of his loaded rifle. A big curved cover of green-lined khaki hangs from the back of his pith helmet, and a broad quilted band of the same material drapes his spine from neck to waist in protection from the blazing sun that swings directly overhead. He carries no pack, but his entrenching tool and water bottle hang from his equipment, and 200 rounds of ammunition fill his pouches. He wears a stocked haversack, too, for one must always be ready for emergencies in the desert, and slung from his bayonet scabbard flaps a grey canvas bag, shaped something like the hot-water bag of civilization. 

Trudging along the hot earth with the mules and their escort arc a number of native camp followers, bearers and syces chattering in cheery monotones and carrying canvas buckets, water bottles, and chargals—the grey canvas bags. These are voluntary members of the party who wouldn't walk a yard in the ordinary course of life if they could help it. 

A mounted sergeant completes the party. His saddle has four chargals suspended from it, and a water bottle is slung across his shoulders. From beneath his dust-laden brows his eyes stare keenly ahead as the column smokes along. There is nothing visible in the dead flat levels from horizon to horizon to tell you whence the column has come or whither it is heading. 

Presently the sergeant's horse whinnies loudly, and the mule strings begin to crowd and jostle forward. In the distance the shimmering haze falls away and discloses a long line of tents, the divisional watering-place, and the river. When its bank is reached, it needs all the strength of drabie and Atkins to keep the mules out of the water at the place where the pakhals are unloaded. But the unloading is completed, and then the mules are led downstream to drink. In the meantime, pakhals and chargals and water-bottles are filled ready for reloading. Half an hour later the regimental watering-party fades away again into the desert spaces where twelve miles away from the watering-place the regiment is dug into the left flank of the army that is pushing the Turk back into his own country. This from my diary: 

We have just pushed the Turk out of the______position. It is about 5 p.m., and the thermometer is somewhere near 120 in the shade. We have been on the move since 3 a.m., and are now bivouacked in a nullah near the river. Through unavoidable causes connected with the surprise nature of the operation, our water bottles were only half full when we commenced, and our pakhals were practically empty. Upon the track of our advance field hospitals are being erected to deal with the big casualties of the march. 

It has been a hot-weather day; the ground too hot to lay the bare hand upon; a rifle barrel untouchable. The sky is a lid of burning brass, and the sun a low-hung blast furnace. All the day we have been the target for hundreds of "dust devils" pirouetting from one rim of the lid to the other, silting our eyes and ears and nostrils with finely powdered earth that stings and scorches as though it had come from a red-hot crucible. 

Scarcely a shot was fired by the Turk in his evacuation, but the rigours of the blazing, waterless march have more than decimated the hardest of units. More than half my regiment have been knocked out, and the survivors just managed to reach the objective. Water must be got immediately. A water-party has just come in, dead beat, to say there is a section of Turks on the opposite bank with a Maxim, and there's no chance of getting water before nightfall. They have just managed to fill two pakhals. 

The Turkish Solution—Horse Version


We divide one of these between a party of picked men and a few drabies, rinse the mouths of half a dozen mules, and set out for another try. The nullah runs down to the river edge. Up-stream of the nullah I spotted a belt of reeds on the river bank, and observed that they could be approached most of the way by a fold in the ground. 

We unhooked" all the pakhals in the nullah, as near as we could get to the water without being observed. Leaving most of the watering-party behind under a sergeant, the mules and the rest of us 'began another trek back along the nullah to where it crossed the fold of ground. Along this the party proceeded towards the reed bed. We had almost got into the reeds before the Turk spotted our water mules, and got his machine-gun aligned on the new target. He opened fire for about fifty rounds. The result being unsatisfactory, he ceased fire, and shifted the position of his gun. We could track his course by the movement of the reeds in the belt on the opposite bank where lie was concealed. 

Reducing risk as far as possible, we made great play with the mules and our reeds and ourselves, and successfully counterfeited the movements of a watering-party. We carried on for about a quarter of an hour, and at intervals replied to his fire with bursts of "rapid" from our rifles. 

We had just lost a mule when a volley of musketry broke from the nullah where we had left the real watering-party. This was the signal that our simple strategem had succeeded, and that the pakhals had been filled under cover of our demonstration. The diversion caused by this new fire attack upon the concealed machine-gun enabled the "camouflage" party to withdraw without further casualties. The mules were taken back to the pakhals. 

The water was being consumed by the exhausted survivors and sick of the battalion before night fell. 

The Turkish Solution - Camel Version

We are occupying one Turkish position while we prepare to eject the enemy from the line upon which he has retired. It is the middle of the hot weather in the middle of the desert and every man and beast is getting as much water as is required. 1 have a bath each evening. In the centre of our perimeter a big wide pit has been dug and lined with tarpaulin. Every morning and evening this is retired from three wells, which arc shared by the brigade. In addition, when the wells fall dry, our water-party goes to the divisional storage tanks, and can draw enough daily from this source for the-cooking and drinking needs of the whole regiment. 

The divisional tanks are walls of sand-bags supporting tarpaulins, which rest on the ground. The water is carried up from the river about fourteen miles away. It comes by convoy, and is carried in ordinary A.T. carts, lined with-tarpaulin, and in pakhals stacked inside big motor-lorries. 

That is how we safeguard our water requirements when we "sit down" for a, while. Here, in Mesopotamia, water is life. It is more. It is a thing for which the straightest man in the regiment would cheerfully break all the Commandments. When a soldier's body is watered he can march and fight and win. But when he is without water the sap of life is from him. He is like the perished tree, the branch of which breaks in the hand. He is Nothing. His rifle is lumber. His big guns are Mockery. A well-filled water-bottle is a won battle. So water is the first article of war, and as we water the regiment do we sweep the Euphrates-Tigris plains and push the Turk towards Aleppo. 

Sources: Thanks to Tony Langley for the photos and the article which originally appeared in the the British magazine The War Illustrated of 6 July 1918

Friday, May 25, 2018

Hungarian War Artist Szegedi Szüts


 by Assistant Editor Kimball Worcester

[I found this book in the military collectibles section of the Friends of the Coronado (CA) Public Library Annual Book Sale. Quite a treasure trove.]


MY WAR by István Szegedi Szüts 

(1893 Budapest–1959 Penzance, Cornwall)



 Self-Portrait, 1942

Permanent Collection, Falmouth (UK) Art Gallery




Szüts presents a stark monochrome work that is the essence of postwar German Expressionism. This entire book is what we now call a graphic novel, annotated only by page number in a list of illustrations, from 1 to 206. It was published in 1932 in the UK and New York. The paper is a thick, textured ivory with the satisfying proportion of 10.25" h x 6.5" w, with illustrations in pen, ink, and wash. The book is powerful in all respects.

The artist served as a hussar in the Austro-Hungarian Army through the war. Afterward he taught drawing from 1926 to 1936 in Hungary. His friends in the cultural world of Hungary included the composers Béla Bartók, Zoltán Kodály, and György Ránki, the latter two friendships extending into Szüts's later years. 

Szüts visited London in 1929 and had a solo exhibition of 76 pictures at the Gieves Gallery. He emigrated to the UK in 1936 and married the artist Gwynedd Jones-Parry. They settled in Cornwall, where they lived until his death in 1959. 



Here are some excerpts. To pique your curiosity, I have included neither the first nor the last page...



28 Mars 

 



56 Attack

 

 

 61 Casualty Clearing Station

 

 65 For Valour

 

 90 Thunder

 

 107 Stop the War!

 

187 We Are All Decorated

Szegedi Szuts. My War. New York: William Morrow & Company, 1932.

Biographical Sketch at:

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Remembering a Veteran: Nurse Amelia Earhart




Overall, the Centennial commemorations have done a fine job of remembering the work of the nurses who cared for the troops. Don't miss, for instance, the 2014 movie version of Testament of Youth, the story of the best known VAD nurse from the Great War, Vera Brittain. It has a whopper of a historical error regarding the dates of the Spanish Flu, but these things happen. 

However, as the photo above shows, it turns out that there is another very well known VAD nurse from the war—none other than aviatrix Amelia Earhart. In 1917 she volunteered to serve at military hospitals in Toronto, serving through the Spanish Flu, and becoming a casualty of the war. During late 1918 she became ill, suffering from pneumonia and maxillary sinusitis. The latter problem led to chronic sinus problems, which affected her flying.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Centennial at the Grass Roots: Villanova University's Online Scrapbook, "Remembering WWI"



Wow! Talk about an eclectic collection this is one of the best online resources of fresh material and images of the Great War I've come across.  Here's the story of the origins of the site:

In the fall of 2015, graduate students in the Villanova Digital History course explored these scrapbooks as a form of memory and source of information on varied experiences during the First World War. Each student developed both an article exploring a key topic related to understanding World War I as well as a digital project based on the photos, letters, texts, and other items contained within the primary source scrapbooks.

Through these digital projects, we hope you glimpse how a few soldiers and nurses remembered their participation in the war. The photos and letters contained in these decades old scrapbooks demonstrate the importance of memory for understanding human experience and provide insight into the war that changed the world.

Here are a few samples:

A Futuristic Look at the War


Aerial Mounted Cameras


Boston Red Sox, 1918 World Series Champions

From the Accompanying Article
Sports had a waning influence during the war years. In the United States, most professional sports teams shut down due to World War I. Athletic men were needed for the war effort. “Work or fight” orders compelled professional athletes to join the military. Public opinion turned against athletes who chose to stay in the United States and play ball rather than join their fellow countrymen in combat. Professional baseball came under scrutiny when both the American and National Leagues decided against suspending their 1918 seasons. Game play was paused indefinitely on September 2, 1918, after the Boston Red Sox defeated the Chicago Cubs, but only for a few months as the war ended the following November. Despite the negative effects this controversy had on professional baseball’s reputation, attendance increased by over 50% during the 1919 season. This suggests that post-war Americans were eager to return to life and leisure as usual.


Belgian Orphans


Wartime Magazine



A Doughboy's Tourism Postcard

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Notes from the Trenches: A Musician's Journey Through World War I
Reviewed by Peter L. Belmonte


Notes from the Trenches: 
A Musician's Journey Through World War I

by Gary H. Foster, Capt., U.S. Navy (Ret.) ed
Outskirts Press, 2018


Gary Foster, a retired U.S. Navy aviator, inherited the footlocker shown above, full of his grandfather's World War I letters and memorabilia. His grandfather, Leo Foster, had been a bugler in the 32nd Division, and Gary thought the letters worthy of preserving and publishing. Accordingly, Gary used a self-publishing company to create this volume.

Leo Foster, 32nd "Red Arrow" Division
Leo Foster enlisted in Company M, 3rd Infantry Regiment, Wisconsin National Guard shortly after the U.S. declared war. After federalization of the National Guard, Leo found himself in Company C, 121st Machine Gun Battalion, 32nd Division. The 32nd was sent to Waco, Texas, for training, and Leo enjoyed himself immensely there.

Leo's letters during his first year of service reflect very little, if any, dissatisfaction with his situation. On the contrary, in many letters he tells of his happiness, especially in Waco, and the fun he's having with soldier and civilian friends. Like most soldiers, Leo was quite concerned with his food situation, and he took every opportunity to eat well; throughout his service he mentions the food he's eaten and the weight he's gained. Leo's quaint Midwestern speech pattern comes through in most letters. For example, in one letter we find: "Oh, sweet dill pickles in vinegar, talk about a gay life," and "Gee I will bet a can opener the sun will shine next". (p. 123)

His initial letters from France reflect naïve bravado common to U.S. soldiers before they had experienced combat. Commenting on his initial stint in the trenches, Leo says

Well I spent 12 days up there and believe me those 12 days were the greatest sport I ever enjoyed in my life. In fact, they ended too short...Now I expected to see some pretty tough times up there. Instead, it was the best time I had since I have been in the Army. Oh yea, plenty of shrapnel whistling around and the closer they would come to you the more sport it would be. (pp. 135–136)

After the war, however, we note a change in attitude evident in some of his letters. In February 1919, writing from his post in Germany in the Army of Occupation, Leo, speaking of himself and his fellow soldiers, writes: "We are not looking for any credit, and I doubt very much the fellows will do much talking when they get back. At least, I don't care to." (p. 236) In April 1919, referring to the Argonne, where he suffered a wound, Leo writes, "God I will never forget that place."
(p. 253) Leo was wounded in action at least twice, and he was hospitalized for the flu. He did not describe his wounding in great detail, no doubt in order to avoid upsetting his family.

Almost all of Leo's letters are lighthearted; there is not much mention of the horrors of combat. In fact, Leo writes comparatively little about his actual military duties. While this is a shame (it would have been interesting to learn about his daily duties as a bugler), his letters still provide a valuable insight into the life of a U.S. combat soldier during the war.

The author provides background and clarifying information throughout the book. He also includes photographs of Leo and his friends and family, and ephemera and memorabilia associated with Leo's service. Foster has done a valuable service in preserving and publishing his grandfather's letters; perhaps others will be able to do the same during this centennial year.

Peter L. Belmonte

Monday, May 21, 2018

Did the British Upper Class Get Off Lightly in the Great War?


Cadet Corps at Eton Drilling

No, says the BBC in this 2014 article.

Although the great majority of casualties in WWI were from the working class, the social and political elite were hit disproportionately hard by the war. Their sons provided the junior officers whose job it was to lead the way over the top and expose themselves to the greatest danger as an example to their men.

Some 12 percent of the British Army's ordinary soldiers were killed during the war, compared with 17 percent of its officers. Eton alone lost more than 1,000 former pupils—20 percent of those who served. UK wartime prime minister Herbert Asquith lost his son Raymond, while future prime minister Andrew Bonar Law lost two. Anthony Eden lost two brothers, another brother of his was terribly wounded, and an uncle was captured.

Grave of Lt. Raymond Asquith at the Somme


Sunday, May 20, 2018

Recommended:
R.G. Head's WWI Aviation History Timeline



R.G. Head (1983Photo)
Former fighter pilot and USAF Brigadier General, Richard (R.G.) Head has produced a wonderful resource for anyone interest in the aviation operations during the Great War.  A  graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, Head is a command pilot with more than 3,000 flying hours.  

One of the first fighter pilots in Vietnam, he flew 325 combat missions in the A-1 Skyraider, for which he earned the Silver Star. He was also awarded the Defense Superior Service Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross, Meritorious Service Medal with oak leaf cluster, Air Medal with 12 oak leaf clusters, and the Air Force Commendation Medal.  Brigadier General Head served as deputy director for operations of the National Military Command Center, Organization of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Washington, DC.

R.G. Head's biography of Germany's first ace in World War One, Oswald Boelcke: Fighter Ace, was published in 2016 by Grub Street Publishing. It was reviewed at ROADS TO THE GREAT WAR on 3 January 2017

Here is a single month of notable aviation events from R.G. Head timeline:

(Reduced Size to Fit)

You can view the entire document here:

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Germany's Enemies: Portraits from German Prisoner of War Camps



These men are prisoners of war from various countries, captured in Germany. Nearly all of them glower into the camera, and the portraits are titled Our Enemies. 96 Character Heads from Prisoner of War Camps in Germany. The different headdresses highlight the ethnic diversity of the men. 













These pictures showed German readers the face of the enemy. Those depicted were especially "exotic" and "alien." This intentional portrayal of the prisoners was intended to make clear these were "evil foreigners." That Germany captured these men from across the world gave the message that Germany had the capacity to take on the entire world. 









Source: The British Library Website

Friday, May 18, 2018

Don't Miss: The AEF Battlefield Guide

In ten days, we will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first American battle of World War One, the Battle of Cantigny.  More commemorations will follow. This booklet will help you keep all the action straight as the unfolding action is retold in the media. The AEF Battlefields covers the area on which the recent PBS WWI documentary was unaccountably weak.


Since 1991, I have been leading First World War battlefield tours to the Western Front, Gallipoli and Italy, and this will be my last year doing so. By far, the greatest interest for my groups has been in the American battlefields. Also, over the years I have received hundreds of inquiries through the Internet as to how to visit the site where a family member, a Doughboy, airman, Marine, or sailor served and how to gain information on what happened where they fought.  What I decided to do for the subscribers of my publications OVER THE TOPROADS TO THE GREAT WAR, and the ST. MIHIEL TRIP-WIRE was consolidate and organize all the information I have gathered over the years on the battlefields of the American Expeditionary Forces into one document. I hope you will consider purchasing it. It is a distillation of all my research and on-site explorations on the subject, organized in a way that I believe is easy to follow. Here are some details about the work and how to purchase it.


The Battlefields Covered:

  • Cantigny
  • Chateau-Thierry, Belleau Wood, and Vaux
  • Second Battle of the Marne
  • Flanders: Mt. Kemmel
  • Frapelle
  • St. Mihiel Salient
  • Meuse-Argonne
  • The Hindenburg Line & Beyond
  • Blanc Mont Ridge
  • Flanders-Lys
  • Other Notable Operations

Sample Section



Specifications:

  • 28-page, full color, large 8½ x 11 inch printable PDF document, readable on desktops, laptops, or P.E.D. devices
  • 10 major battles and 5 notable smaller operations covered
  • Each main section includes: quick facts, then and now photos, maps, details about the battle, and key sites to visit with GPS coordinates.
  • Delivered electronically
Price: $14.99


How to Purchase

Include your Email Address for Delivery

Thursday, May 17, 2018

100 Years Ago: U.S. Enacts Sedition Law





THE ACT

The Sedition Act of 1918 (Pub.L. 65–150, 40 Stat. 553, enacted 16 May 1918) was an Act of the United States Congress that extended  the Espionage Act of 1917 to cover a broader range of offenses, notably speech and the expression of opinion that cast the government or the war effort in a negative light or interfered with the sale of government bonds. Though the legislation enacted in 1918 is commonly called the Sedition Act, it was actually a set of amendments to the Espionage Act

SECTION 3. Whoever, when the United States is at war, shall willfully make or convey false reports or false statements with intent to interfere with the operation or success of the military or naval forces of the United States, or to promote the success of its enemies, or shall willfully make or convey false reports, or false statements,...or incite insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, or refusal of duty, in the military or naval forces of the United States, or shall willfully obstruct...the recruiting or enlistment service of the United States, or...shall willfully utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States, or the Constitution of the United States, or the military or naval forces of the United States...or shall willfully display the flag of any foreign enemy, or shall willfully...urge, incite, or advocate any curtailment of production...or advocate, teach, defend, or suggest the doing of any of the acts or things in this section enumerated and whoever shall by word or act support or favor the cause of any country with which the United States is at war or by word or act oppose the cause of the United States therein, shall be punished by a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than twenty years, or both.

PROSECUTIONS

Eugene Debs
The act, along with other similar federal laws, was used to convict at least 877 people in 1919 and 1920, according to a report by the attorney general. In 1919, the Supreme Court heard several important free speech cases—including Debs v. United States and Abrams v. United States—involving the constitutionality of the law. In both cases, the court upheld the convictions as well as the law.

REPEAL

As part of a sweeping repeal of War Time Laws, Congress repealed the Sedition Act on 13 December 1920. Later, President Warren Harding commuted Eugene Debs’s sentence to time served.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Who Suffered the Most from Gas Warfare?



As the table above shows, it was Russia that suffered the most from gas during the First World War.  Why was this? Other than summary statistics only bits and pieces of the story are known. Despite the focus on the first use on the Western Front at Ypres in April 1915, the Russians were targeted earlier, but ineffectively, with a type of tear gas in January 1915 at Bolimow. Later, on 31 May, they suffered over 6,000 killed by chlorine gas in a series of assaults. For the rest of the war, it was a one-sided affair. The Russians never got the hang of systematic defensive measures against gas, and their own offensive measures were of no operational impact.

Russian Gas Masks and Respirators


Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Over There with the AEF: The World War I Memoirs of Captain Henry C. Evan
Reviewed by Virginia A. Dilkes



Over There with the AEF: The World War I Memoirs of Captain Henry C. Evans, 1st Division

by Captain Henry C. Evans
Combat Studies Institute Press, 2011

Capt. Henry C. Evans
Over There with the AEF is the WWI memoir of Captain Henry C. Evans, who served in the 1st Artillery Regiment in the 1st Division of the AEF. Henry C. Evans volunteered to be part of the Allied war effort in WWI with the same spirit as that of the 1st Division in which he served: "First to the Front—First in battle—First cited for action." He interrupted his college education at Johns Hopkins University in his junior year to join the war effort. He wrote, "The war is, in my opinion, the most important thing for the whole world, and until our side has won, I shall not think of stopping."

When our country formally joined the war, Evans, initially rejected for medical reasons by the U.S. Army, went overseas with the intention of becoming an ambulance driver in the American Field Service serving with the French army. With an overabundance of ambulance drivers, Evans volunteered to join the French Motor Transport Service where he served as a driver for the French Army. He fulfilled his six-month commitment to the Motor Transport Unit and decided to seek a commission in the U.S. Army Field Artillery. In October 1917 he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Field Artillery and was assigned to the 1st Field Artillery Regiment in the 1st Division of the AEF.

Evans fought in the Battle for Cantigny, the Battle for Soissons, the St. Mihiel campaign, the Battle for the Meuse-Argonne Forest, and served in the U.S. Army of Occupation. He desired his own field artillery battery command, and one can sense his drive throughout his memoirs. In addition to his war experiences, he wrote about the detail needed to keep the field artillery unit in which he served ready for action: attention to the men in the unit, the care of the horses, the maintenance of the artillery, and the calculations needed for effective use of the artillery in battle. "We first had to feed the horses and the men, clean the guns, but by noon we could all turn in." He taught himself analytic geometry to calculate the firing data for the rolling barrages. He wrote: "I would stay up all night, figure up all the firing data for the rolling barrages for the [the next day's] attack and direct the night firing."

The Field Artillery on the Move

He enjoyed telling stories of his war experiences. On one occasion he joined in tampering with the governors on the motors in the French Motor Transport Service to joyride at speeds exceeding those stated in the French Army rule book. One of his favorite stories was of an immature soldier who rose to the occasion to deliver much-needed rations.

He wrote about cooties and fleas although his memoirs reflected the seriousness of the responsibility of the field artillery unit at the Front. He learned to use semaphore signals to relay information about enemy positions to pinpoint where the artillery should fire. Evans suffered deafness from the loud noise generated by artillery shelling.

An American Crew Firing a French 75

As an editor of the WWI memoirs of my own father who served in the 1st Engineers, it was refreshing to read the memoirs of Henry C. Evans that offered another perspective on what it was like to serve in the military campaigns of WWI in which the 1st Division fought. Many times the detail in which Evans wrote about his experiences in battle caused me to reflect on my own father's war.

Over There with the AEF is replete with excellent simplistic maps of the military campaigns of the 1st Division. Evans was as geographic in his memoirs as was my father, so it was easy to follow the footsteps of Captain Evans. His experiences are backed up with letters home, which are included in the appendices. The Introductory Essay by John J. McGrath and footnotes by Lt. Col. Charles E. Roller related Evans's experiences to the documented history of the war. The book needs additional editing.

This book is recommended to the reader who likes to learn about the contributions of the specialty units in the U.S. military in WWI and the individuals who made a difference. Captain Evans was such an individual. In Over There with the AEF Captain Evans relates what it is like to be part of and in command of a field artillery unit and the skills he developed in the process. He was able to hone these skills as he continued his military career in WWII and beyond, rising to the rank of brigadier general.

Over There with the AEF: The World War I Memoirs of Captain Henry C. Evans is also available as a free PDF document online HERE. It was edited by the U.S. government, U.S. military, and the Evans family. Contributions by John J. McGrath; footnotes by Lt. Col. Charles E. Roller

Virginia A. Dilkes

Monday, May 14, 2018

American Troops Are Welcomed “Over There” by King George


By Paul Albright


The Doughboys had just disembarked from their troop ships 100 years ago when they were handed a letter from King George V welcoming them to the British Isles and to the Great War that had engulfed Europe. 

Lieutenant Francis Wolle, who was assigned to the 356th Infantry, was handed the king’s printed letter as he and other soldiers boarded a transport train before being deployed to France. Wolle used the back of the king’s letter to write a short letter to his parents in New York City: “On the train thru England in a 1st class compartment with 5 other officers. This letter was given me as I boarded the train.” 

In the handwritten message printed on Windsor Castle stationery and dated 18 April, King George welcomed the U.S. soldiers to the British Isles “on your way to take your stand beside the Armies of many Nations now fighting in the Old World the great battle for human freedom.”

“The Allies will gain new heart and spirit in your company,” he continued. “I wish that I could shake the hand of each one of you & bid you God speed on your mission.” 

King George V Decorating an American Doughboy in France

Wolle, who would survive the war and become an English professor at the University of Colorado, was impressed by the English towns and countryside that he saw from the train, but he was scrupulous in not naming specific locations. His letter was postmarked 19 June 1918, in Southampton, which apparently was where these American troops arrived. “Passed thru a number of places noted in history & literature where I looked hard,” Wolle wrote his parents. “Can’t name them tho. At camp I spent most of my time censoring letters of men in the company. It is a tedious job & one gets so he reads knowing nothing in the letter except whether it is allowed or not. Many things are not.”

King George’s expressed wish to shake hands with American soldiers did come to pass. In addition to reviewing American troops outside Buckingham Palace, the king, Queen Mary, and Princess Mary visited a Red Cross hospital for 1,000 wounded American servicemen at Dartford, Kent, England near the end of the war. 

An article sent to American newspapers “by cable “reported that King George “talked with scores of men from all parts of the United States, not confining himself to a mere greeting, but pausing in a great many instances to hold lengthy conversations with them. He congratulated them on ‘the wonderful work Americans are doing over here,’” according to the news report

The Doughboys were enthusiastic about the royal visit, as well. 

“Their hearty greeting affected the visitors deeply, and King George smiled and waived his acknowledgement in the most enthusiastic fashion. The demonstration was renewed when the party entered the hospital, each ward trying to outdo the other in the vociferousness of the welcome.”

References: 

  • Francis Wolle Papers (COU 1754), Special Collections & Archives, University of Colorado-Boulder. 
  • The Fort Collins Express (Colorado), 11 November 1918.
  • www.criticalpast.com (video 65675026314).