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

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Remembering a Veteran: Lt. Arthur Kimber, 22nd Aero Squadron, USAS — A Roads Classic

The Service and Death of Lt. Arthur "Clifford" Kimber

by Patrick Gregory

News Flash!  Author Patrick Gregory is flying across the Atlantic "pond" to speak on Lt. Kimber's war service next week on Wednesday, 21 February, 6:30 p.m. at the Army Heritage and Education Center, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania. Please try to attend if you're in the area.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clifford Kimber spent the next year in aviation service, the first six months in training over the winter of 1917/18. It was an exacting schedule of first basic, and then advanced training schools, finally being tutored at a third camp in aerial gunnery techniques. Yet delays afterward—delays in transporting a vast force of men and materiel to Europe as well as the wrangling still going on as to the American Expeditionary Force's exact role and theater of operations—saw him frustratedly having to cool his heels for a time. He then acted as a "ferryman," delivering warplanes around France from distribution depots and airfields.

But finally it was time for active service as Kimber went into combat with both the French Air Service—Escadrille Spa. 85—and the U.S. Air Service's 22nd Aero Squadron, seeing action across the front in northeastern France in the summer and early autumn of 1918. Kimber fought with the 22nd during the Americans' St. Mihiel campaign, narrowly escaping with his life in an attack by enemy fighters. Acting as his patrol's rear guard, he was jumped by a group of Fokker aircraft and his plane riddled with gunfire. "Unreasonably shot to pieces" in the restrained words of the squadron's official historian, Arthur Raymond Brooks. 

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

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

© Patrick Gregory 2016

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

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Centennial at the Grass Roots: Steve Miller Documents Camp Meade, Part 2

Part 1, of Steve Miller's feature appeared in yesterday's posting on Roads to the Great War.

Displayed at the Fort Meade Museum
(4674 Griffin Ave, Fort Meade)

Photos Taken by U.S. Army Signal Corps Photographers

French Altimeter and Wristwatch Used by Lt. Donald Wilson, US Air Service

The Story of  the "Five of Hearts" FT-17 Tank

The Five of Hearts Today

A Hands-On Educational Kiosk

The Mark VIII Tank

Interior View of the Mark VIII

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Centennial at the Grass Roots: Steve Miller Documents Camp Meade, Part 1

Steve Miller
at Cantigny, France

My friend, regular contributor, and former SAC Air Force and traveling mate Steve Miller is simply the best at in-depth photographic studies of WWI subjects.

Recently Steve visited Fort Meade, MD, which was built during the war as one of the cantonments to train America's new army. In those days, it was known as "Camp Meade, of course." All the photos are Steve's, except the first old image which I found at National Archives.

Part 2, will  appear in tomorrow's edition of Roads to the Great War.

Camp Meade Nears Completion, 1917

Many Units Passed Through Camp Meade on Their Way to France

Photos of Some of the Units, Including the 79th "Lorraine" Division

The Hello Girls of the Signal Corps in Paris

Camp Meade Has Always Had a Strong Connection with the Signal Corps
Here Is Some Captured German Communications Equipment from the War

There Are Many Remembrances of the War Around Fort Meade

Today Fort Meade Has an Outstanding Museum

Tomorrow We Will Look at the Museum's Collection

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Why Did They Attack Shoulder-to-Shoulder in 1914?

Depiction of a French Attack at Charleville, 1914

Canadian Historian Rob Engen commented on this in our September 2009 issue of Over the Top:

A.  The Generals Didn't Quite Comprehend the Lethal Firepower of the New Weaponry

From the midpoint of the 19th century on, technological developments increased the lethality of the battlefield many times over, even if armies were slow to appreciate the transitions. Machine guns and rapid-fire artillery in particular created "fire-swept zones" on the field that made a frontal attack extremely dangerous.

Cadavers of Attacking German Soldiers, Battle of the Marne, 1914

B.  The Generals Had Their Doubts About Their Conscripted Soldiers

There was also legitimate concern [by the general staffs] about whether dispersion and the necessary delegation of small-group tactics could prove at all effective. Skirmishing was, correctly, seen as a form of warfare that required well-trained and disciplined soldiers and junior officers who possessed a great deal of imagination and personal initiative. The French tactical problem was that after 1870 an average of 70 percent of their army was made up of first-year conscripts. The industrial age's creation of mass conscript armies made it difficult to envisage such green troops ever being sufficiently trained to conduct effective small- group actions, with the resultant fear that, come actual battle, they would be torn apart when they conducted such actions badly.

As historian Hew Strachan put it, "Nobody in France ever really doubted the necessity of open order, but many did question the quality of the French soldier's training. The solidity of close order had helped to compensate for the conscript's lack of skill." So as the immediate lessons of 1870 faded, the proponents of mass and the frontal attack, such as Colonel Ardant du Picq, began to move French tactical doctrine back in  their direction. The notorious French infantry regulations of 1884 and 1895 enshrined this, commanding that attacking units should advance coude √† coude ("elbow to elbow") not breaking formation to take advantage of cover, but assaulting en masse to achieve the maximum shock effect, and ride the wave of high morale, with rifle and bayonet. This was enshrined as a way to sustain the offensive (which was exaggerated to be all important in war), stoke the fires of morale and moral superiority of the French soldiers, and make good on the conscripts' otherwise questionable

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Desert Anzacs
Reviewed by Bruce Sloan

Desert Anzacs: The Under-Told Story of the Sinai Palestine Campaign 1916–1918

by Neil Dearberg
Glass House Books, 2017

Neil Dearberg has based Desert Anzacs on research, analysis, more than ten years of travel and living throughout the Middle East, plus 15 years of military service. He has presented a part of WWI history of which many of us know little. As he points out,

Anzacs went to Gallipoli and exposure to incompetent British generals and a determined Johnny Turk. Evacuated to Egypt, they would once more face incompetent British generals and a determined Johnny Turk as they crossed the heated sands of Sinai.

Two Australian Lighthorsemen Pause at Mt. Meredith in the Bleak Sinai

The troops continually faced the hesitancy of the British War Office—until Allenby. After devastating failures at the Dardanelles, Kut in Mesopotamia, and stalemate in France, British morale was "rock bottom" while Turkish morale was "stratospheric". Moreover, in defending the Suez Canal, General Murray split his forces into smaller, isolated pockets forward of the canal, thus ensuring that they would be defeated—until the appointment of Henry Chauvel.

General Henry Chauvel, an Australian, became "commander of Anzac, British, and dominion soldiers, the first non-British officer ever to do so." This was "an unheard-of honor that horrified traditional caste-conscious relics of the empire." The battle of Romani would be the first bright spot in 1916 for British arms, after which the combined forces chased the Turks east into Beersheba and Gaza, on to Palestine and Jerusalem. Then, in 1918, after two failed "raids" across the Jordan River (More than "raids", these were failed campaigns, whitewashed for the War Office), and coordinating with the Northern Arab Army, Amman was captured.

A three-pronged attack, including "the great ride", "the greatest cavalry operation of all time,", or "the greatest mounted ride in history", by nearly 30,000 horsemen of the Desert Mounted Corps, faked out the Turks and ensured victory and a northward chase to Damascus and beyond. The spoils were 75,000 prisoners (Turkish soldiers along with numerous Germans, including staff officers), more than 360 guns, 800 machine guns, 3,500 transport animals, rolling stock, trucks, a wagon loaded with gold and silver, plus other booty.

This three-week operation was the culmination of three years of work in which the Suez Canal was saved, major contributions were made to the Arab forces and their support of Sharif Hussein's revolt, the Holy Land was reclaimed after 730 years of Muslim control, and a springboard was provided for victory in the west.

The Sinai campaign "showed that Australians and New Zealanders continued the spirit of mateship, pride and national identity, begun at Gallipoli." However, while praising the "other ranks" and many of the lesser British officers, the author is devastatingly firm in his disdain for most senior British officers until Allenby. After all, he IS Australian.

Bruce Sloan

Monday, February 12, 2018

Recommended: Turning the Pages of Patriotism with the American Library Association

From the New York Historical Society
by Tammy Kiter

Soldier amidst newspapers. Letter dated January 7, 1918.  Salvator Cillis Papers.

Thoughts of World War I do not necessarily conjure up images of soldiers reading for leisure. Rather, we tend to recall seeing photographs of brave young men engaged in trench warfare and scenes of the horrific aftermath of brutal battles. But through the efforts of the American Library Association, thousands of U.S. servicemen and Allied forces were given an opportunity to step away from the training camps and battlefields and into the pages of a book, magazine, or newspaper sent from the home front.

Founded in 1876, the American Library Association (ALA) is the oldest and largest library organization in the world. The War Department’s Commission on Training Camp Activities extended an invitation to the ALA to provide library service to soldiers and sailors in America, France, and several other locations. In 1917 the American Library Association established the Committee on Mobilization and War Service Plans, later known as the War Service Committee. ALA was among seven welfare groups associated with the Commission; together, they were often referred to as the “Seven Sisters”. The other partner organizations were as follows: Young Men’s Christian Association, Young Women’s Christian Association, Salvation Army, Jewish Welfare Board, Knights of Columbus, and War Camp Community Service.

ALA’s Library War Service programs were directed by Librarian of Congress, Herbert Putnam, and later by Carl H. Milam, who earned the nickname of “Mr. ALA”. At the time of the Library War Service’s inception, ALA had a membership of only 3,300 members and an annual budget of just $25,000. Yet, through the dedication and perseverance of both library employees and American citizens, they were able to accomplish amazing feats during a tumultuous time in U.S. history. In a guide published by the ALA War Service, the author notes that “previous wars had shown us how to equip and administer commissary departments and canteens, but they taught us little of present day value as to what the men would need in the way of literary or intellectual equipment.” He goes on to state, “Not only do the students in khaki call for more than the soldiers in blue and gray, but more is demanded of them in return.”

American Library Association War Poster

Every library in the United States was urged to participate not only as a collection site and repository for donated books, but as a source of promotion and publicity for the campaign. Librarians were encouraged to join the “Dollar-a-Month-Club” whereby they contributed their own money to the cause. Library staff catalogued books and placed a War Service label in the front cover and circulation card in the back. Volunteers were solicited to sort, pack, and ship the materials to military members at home and abroad. Citizens were invited to place a one cent stamp on the cover of their magazines and place them in the local postbox to be mailed to our servicemen. 

In a 1918 letter Salvator Cillis, a soldier at Camp Upton, Long Island, writes: “You have no doubt seen the little notice printed on all the periodicals, about when the reader gets through to put a one cent stamp and it will be sent to soldiers and sailors. Well in one corner of our barracks there are several piles of them…” His accompanying sketch (page top)  brings the scene to life. Cillis continued to send heartfelt, humorous letters with sketches home to his friends and family, even during his time in the trenches.

Continue reading the article here:

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Caricature at War

Sorting through my hard drive filled with images I came upon a folder titled "Caricatures."  Below are the image contained in that folder. According to the online WWI Encyclopedia, the term “caricature”, is derived from the Old Italian word caricare which means “to exaggerate” and “to attack vehemently”. Thus the normal task of a caricaturist is to attack and to ridicule society and government, usually in an exaggerated or distorted way. Illustrative caricatures are usually more aggressive than [written] articles. The press and propaganda agencies of all the nations (including neutrals) deployed caricatures as an instrument of combat. However, not all the specimens presented here are derogatory toward their subject, and I hope you find some of them amusing. They are arrayed in rough chronological order.

Tirpitz as Neptune, God of the Sea

Jack Tar Lloyd George Reads John Bull the Riot Act 

The Kaiser Imprisoned by Burial Crosses

A Prim Miss Woodrow Wilson Must Choose Between the
Dove of Peace and the Eagle of Preparedness

A Fork-Tongued Snaky Woodrow Wilson as Viewed in the German Press

From All I've Read About General Edmund "The Bull" Allenby, 
This Placid Portrayal Seems to Miss Its Target

Clemenceau, Soldier of the Rear Area, Rooting-Out Defeatists from
Their Connection to the Front

Germany's View of the Allies' Leadership, About Early 1917

Multi-Themed White Russian Cartoon Featuring Trotsky

This Is a Postwar Painting from the National Gallery That I Think
Captures Something Essential About Pershing's Character

Saturday, February 10, 2018

How the Kitchener's New Army Was Recruited & Prepared for Battle

When war was declared in August 1914, many believed it would be "over by Christmas." Horatio Kitchener, however, suspected differently and set about creating his "New Armies" to fight in the long term.

At the start of the War, the Army consisted of just 700,000 soldiers, a tiny force compared to the mass armies of France, Germany and Russia. Lord Kitchener, then British secretary of state for war, instigated a mass recruitment campaign, calling for 100,000 new recruits to bolster British forces. He wanted to transform the nation’s small, specialist-trained force into a mass civilian army.

Showing Up to Volunteer

In the wave of patriotism that followed the declaration of war, his tactics worked. However, these new volunteers needed to be trained, and it soon became apparent that existing barracks across the UK simply would not suffice.

Initially, public buildings such as schools, churches, and warehouses were used in response to the need for more adequate training spaces. Eventually, with the assistance of the Royal Engineers, purpose-built training camps were developed and original barracks expanded, including Shorncliffe in Folkestone.

Meeting the Sergeant

While at the training camps, new recruits were put through their paces with physical fitness training, as well as marching and drills. There was no set program in place for training, so each squad could have a very different training experience.

In a letter sent from one training camp, a soldier writes:

I don’t know whether you get any Swedish drill or not but we do, and my word is it hard when you are not used to it. Our squad have had it twice and there are plenty of sore muscles amongst us.
Lance Corporal Frank Bentley, Grenadier Guards, to his brother, 1915

As well as the skills to fight, new recruits learnt the basics of survival on the front line. Cooking, for example, was taught to all trainees, as revealed in another letter:

I had cottage pie for supper yesterday and am going to have another tonight. I suppose you wonder where I got it. Ah! I made it (some cook; What!).
Private George Walters, Middlesex Regiment, to his mother, 1915

Although not traditionally a male pastime in the early 20th century, the ability to cook up a hot meal would be vital—for nutrition and for morale—while on active duty.

As soldiers began to specialize in a particular role, for example in the infantry as a machine gunner or a bomber, they would receive more expert training. When the time came to travel to the Western Front, soldiers would also be given basic training in wiring, gas defense, and first aid.

Mass Exercise Formation

Although training continued after going on active duty, for many soldiers it simply could not prepare them for the horrors that they were to experience on the front line. While tactics taught at training camps evolved with the war, the thousands who did not return paid the highest price for the steep learning curve experienced by all sides in the conflict.

Source:  Text and Images from the National Army Museum Website

Thursday, February 8, 2018

My AEF Battlefield Guide

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


  • 28-page, full color, large 8½ x 11 inch printable PDF Document, readable on desk tops, 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