February 2006

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TRENCH REPORT: We have received many inquiries from you about the Great War Society's seminar plans for 2006. Contrary to earlier versions of this issue, I still am holding out hopes that we can get the seminar planning process back on track. I've agreed to do everything I can to accomplsh this. . .After last month's mention of the building traffic for the Trip-Wire, I was asked if this was our most popular internet feature. At best, it's only #2. Undoubtedly our busiest single page is our 1914-1918 Super Search Engine (link) which encompasses all Great War Society, WFA-USA and Trenches on the Web material, as well almost 1,000 other WWI sites linked to those pages. In November 2004 there were over 57,000 unique visitors searching for information. You might want to include this valuable page on your bookmarks or favorites list. . .Battlefield pathfinders Frank Jordan and Tom Gudmestad have just announced their latest trip to the Western Front for June 11-21, 2006. This year's expedition visits both WWI & WWII sites. Contact Frank for a brochure. (email). MH

The Real Deal

Ruins of Fort Souville
German High Water Point at Verdun
This Month's
Special Feature

Verdun's Forts
Key to the Battle

Mausoleum for Italian
Supreme Commander Luigi Cardona
Lake Maggiore
Media Events

Joyeux Noel the highly regarded French treatment of the legendary Christmas Truce is slated for US theatrical release March 3rd. Check your local listings. . .There is an interesting article, "John J. Pershing and Relief for Cause in the American Expeditionary Forces, 1917-1918" by Timothy K. Nenninger in the spring 2005 issue of Army History. . .Doughboy veteran Harold Ross's old rag, The New Yorker, had an excellent article recently on "Battle Lessons" posted on the websites of Iraq War GIs. A number of them sound like they might have been learned before in the AEF (link).

New at the Websites of the Great War Society and Our Friends

Click on Title to Access
At Great War Society Sites At the WFA-USA

The Order of the White Feather was founded in August 1914 by British Admiral Charles Fitzgerald to encourage women to give out white feathers to young men who had not joined the army. The pacifist, Fenner Brockway, claimed that he was given so many white feathers that he had enough to make a fan. The practice caused considerable discomfort for police, government employees or demobilized wounded who were somehow serving the war effort.

The World War I Wasteland
An Extreme Abridgement of Eliot
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many, I had not thought death had undone so many.

I think we are in rats' alley
Where the dead men lost their bones.

When Lil's husband got demobbed, I said - I didn't mince my words, I said to her myself, HURRY UP PLEASE IT'S TIME

Think of poor Albert,
He's been in the army for four years, he wants a good time, And if you don't give it him, there's others will, I said. Oh is there, she said. Something o' that, I said.

But at my back in a cold blast I hear
The rattle of the bones, and chuckle spread from ear to ear. A rat crept softly through the vegetation
Dragging its slimy belly on the bank

White bodies naked on the low damp ground

To Carthage then I came
    Burning burning burning burning
And bones cast in a little low dry garret, Rattled by the rat's foot only, year to year.

He who was living is now dead
We who were living are now dying
With a little patience

Murmur of maternal lamentation
Who are those hooded hordes swarming Over endless plains, stumbling in cracked earth Ringed by the flat horizon only

Falling towers
Jerusalem Athens Alexandria
Vienna London

By this, and this only, we have existed
Which is not to be found in our obituaries

London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down

(Full text with Eliot's notes.)

Recognize the Author?

In the 1920s aviation pioneer Hap Arnold wrote six books to build enthusiasm for flying among the young.


"Titans of the Admiralty: Fisher & Churchill"

Churchillian Society At the Pacific Union Club, San Francisco

February 4 (email)
Verdun and Somme 90th Commemorative Events

Comprehensive Double Calendar

Scheduled Throughout 2006 (link)
WFA-Pacific Branch Spring Seminar

Bay Street Armoury, Officer's Mess At Victoria BC

March 10-12 (link)
WFA-USA East Coast Branch Seminar

Baltimore, MD

April 1 (email)
The First World War and

Popular Culture
Newcastle Inst. for the Arts & Social Sciences

March 31 - Apr. 2 (link)
WFA-USA National Seminar

Aurora, Colorado

May 19-21 (link)
WFA-USA Florida Gulf Chapter Seminar

Hilton Garden Inn, Tampa North

August 16 (link)
Send additions/corrections:
Email Response

Memorable Event

February 21, 1916

Battle of Verdun Begins

See Surrounding Articles

My heart bled when I saw our young twenty-year-old men going under fire at Verdun. . .I loved the confident glance with which they saluted me. But the discouragement with which they returned! Their eyes stared into space as if transfixed by a vision of terror. In their gait and their attitudes they betrayed utter exhaustion.

Recalling 1916

Knight Errant
By World War I Veteran Oscar Kokoschka
Page Two

John Galsworthy and Reveille

From Susan Neeson, GWS Member

Excerpted From: "Remembering and Dismemberment: Crippled Children, Wounded Soldier, and the Great War in Great Britain", by Seth Koven from American Historical Review, October, 1994

With the outbreak of World War I, the novelist and playwright John Galsworthy struggled to comprehend its "monstrous calamity and evil" and to decide what his role in the war effort should be. He confided to his diary that "the heart searchings of this War are terrible. . .I think and think what is my duty."' For the next four years, Galsworthy tried to answer this question. The mangled and immobilized bodies returning home seemed to mock his conviction that the Allies were fighting a war to defend freedom and played powerfully on his imagination and conscience. In the spring of 1918, he finally found a way to reconcile his hatred for war with his duty to serve his country: he agreed to edit a small journal for the Ministry of Pensions about and for disabled soldiers, Recalled to Life, which he renamed Reveille. He would use it to awaken the nation to its obligations to the war wounded.

Granted complete editorial liberty (or so he believed) and generous funding by the ministry, Galsworthy was determined that Reveille would be no mere mouthpiece to disseminate reassuring platitudes. In addition to soliciting articles by experts on disability, he enlisted an extraordinary array of artistic talent and transformed the publication of an obscure technical journal on military orthopedics and disability pensions into a minor literary event. Galsworthy's passionate introductory editorial is perhaps the journal's most remarkable document, not the least because of its bleak candor at a time when the war's outcome was still uncertain. He observed:

First Issue

In every Street, on every road and village-green we meet them-crippled, half crippled, or showing little outward trace, though none the less secretly deprived of health. Those who encouraged such men to "drift" into shiftless despair were "guilty of ingratitude, and will be the first to show impatience and heartlessness, when, five or ten years hence, we see him cumbering the ground, hopeless and embittered, often out of work, and always an eyesore to a nation which will wish to forget there ever was this war.

For Galsworthy, the fate of Britain's disabled war veterans was linked to the intertwined politics of remembering and forgetting the war itself. He keenly appreciated the fact that the maimed bodies of countless soldiers signified the ambiguities of the end of war for victors and losers alike or, rather, that the official cessation of hostilities between nations did not coincide with the end of war's consequences for its victims.

In what proved to be the last issue of Reveille, Galsworthy returned to these themes.

The State, like the humblest citizen, cannot have it both ways. If it talks-as talk it does, with the mouth of every public man who speaks on this subject-of heroes, and of doing all it can for them, then it must not cheese-pare as well, for that makes it ridiculous. Britain has climbed the high moral horse-as usual-over the great question of our disabled; she cannot stay in that saddle if she rides like a slippery lawyer." It is not difficult to understand why many officials at the Ministry grown uncomfortable with their celebrated editor. With the signing of the armistice and mounting pressure of censorship by ministry officials on him, Galsworthy resigned his duties, and the journal closed down.

Galsworthy's words were prophetic of developments in the 1920s and 1930s.


February 1916:

The Storm Breaks

The Somme

Winter 1915-16:


Life in the French front line continued quietly. The German build up continued quietly. French Intelligence continued to ignore the accumulating evidence of the build up.

Click Here to See a Large
Battlefield Map of Verdun

At 7:15 on the morning of 21st February the storm broke. A massive German barrage saturated the whole of the French positions on both banks of the Meuse. The French High Command of the Verdun area began issuing orders based on such information as could be gleaned following the destruction of telephone lines and the death of runners carrying messages. Inevitably the orders arrived late or not at all and counter order and chaos rapidly took hold. Some units never moved waiting for orders, some moved into the German barrage and were destroyed and some, like Colonel Driant's men, held their positions and waited for the infantry assault.
(Article on Col. Driant)

On the first day they held on under shellfire and the survivors beat off the infantry patrols attacking during the late afternoon. The next morning the Germans tried again and finally overran his position. Driant was killed. On 23rd the dam broke and the Germans advanced rapidly towards Verdun until on the 25th they reached the Douaumont Ridge, dominated by Fort Douaumont, the largest, most important and spectacular Fort in the entire fortified region. It fell that day and the crash echoed round France.

On the night of February 24th Joffre, who never showed that he was worried, sent his trouble shooting emissary, General de Castlenau, to Verdun to see what the actual situation was. He picked up the gauntlet offered by von Falkenhayn, decided that Verdun could be held and that General Petain was the man to do it.

Joffre & Petain
At Verdun
Petain arrived on the 25th, gave immediate instructions that there were to be no more backward movements and such was his reputation that all felt that all would now be well. He instructed that all the artillery on the left bank (where the lines had not moved) should turn its immediate attention to the hordes of Germans moving toward Fort Douaumont.

The military supply situation into Verdun was bad with only a light railway still capable of operating and with one country road running adjacent with it. It was all there was at that time, so Petain appointed a Major as director for this road and he kept it running for the whole of the battle using thousands of old soldiers to keep it in some sort of usable condition. As the battle wore on, the supply links were greatly improved but in those first weeks, France could have lost the battle without it. It became known then as the Voie Sacree and is still known as such to this day.
(cont. on right)
In December 1915 General Sir Douglas Haig took over the leadership of the British Expeditionary Force from Sir John French.

Click Here to See a Large Battlefield Map of the Somme

1915 had not been a good year for the BEF which had suffered major losses in the ranks of the old Regular Army, but with the help of the Territorial battalions and of the Indian Army the lines had been held and were still holding. Now the Kitchener volunteers (of which more later) were beginning to come on stream and it was becoming possible to consider making a definitive contribution to the war. In French eyes, the BEF had been lacking in effort through 1915 and they thought that the BEF should be able to launch their own major attack sometime in 1916.

On French terms naturally, since France was the major party, holding some 400 miles of front line to the BEF front of some 30 miles. At a major policy meeting in December 1915, Joffre decreed that the Somme region was the best place for a battle because it was the junction of the French and British forces, and would thus show the French people that Britain was now "doing her bit" for France.

The river running through the British part of the battlefield to be was the Ancre with the Somme river lying to the South, but the battle will be forever known as The Somme. The start date was to be the 25th June, with the major proportion of the assaulting forces being French. At the time of the meeting the German assault on Verdun was not even suspected by the French. Haig accepted.

(Verdun cont.)

From the arrival of General Petain the front lines solidified across Pepper Hill, through Haudromont Quarries and so to Fort Douaumont. Petain instituted a system of changing his infantry units on a regular basis so that none of them suffered unduly, although their losses were grievous enough, and overall a degree of logic and management came to the battlefield. German casualties began to rise and General von Falkenhayn's grand idea began to look rather uncertain.

If only he had instructed an assault on the left bank at the same time!
If you would like to visit these fields of memory for a detailed tour, please email Tony Noyes or Christina Holstein to discuss your requirements without obligation.

French Souvenir of Verdun

Click Here to Visit War in a Different Light

A German Presence
At Verdun

By Christina Holstein

Since the Verdun battlefield is essentially a French shrine, elements reflecting the German sacrifice during the struggle of 1916 are often missed by visitors since they are usually away from the main tourist routes.

Here are three images of the 24th Brandenburger monument at Verdun. It stands in a former cemetery for officers of the famous 24th Brandenburg Infantry Regiment, which took Fort Douaumont on 25 February 1916. The bodies were exhumed after the war and reburied in the German cemetery at Ville-devant-Chaumont, Meuse, which is about 5 miles north of Fort Douaumont. The monument has been recently cleaned by a group of German historians who have got together with the French war graves organisation, Souvenir Francais, to preserve it and other German monuments in the area.

Page Three

The War Parable:
The First World War as a 'Generic' Literary Event.

By Dr. Esther MacCallum-Stewart
Popular culture is a dreadful magpie, and nowhere more so than when it comes to using history. For many texts that do not directly concern historical events, or use history as a location - maybe in passing or as background detail, it is amazing how a series of ideas, images or even quotations have come to represent a historical event entirely. Child evacuees, are for example, a definitive indicator of the Second World War, whereas The Bayeux Tapestry represents the Battle of Hastings.

Increasingly, though, tackling the war head-on is becoming a rather stale theme. Authors have been trying to find interesting ways to represent the war, and this has often resulted in texts in which the war becomes secondary to the social or cultural events of the time, for narratives where the war is a jumping off point or the beginning for a family saga, or simply as a memory in a character's mind. Other texts use the war in a different context, displacing it to an Elseworld, or creating similar circumstances and applying the values of the war to the situation. Finally, some texts look at the war and 'assume' some areas are so well known that they need little explanation, leaving them free to investigate different approaches or angles.

For example, Michelle Paver's The Serpent's Tooth (2005) is the third in the series of a family saga set largely in Jamaica and the United Kingdom. The book's jacket uses a traditional motif of an empty helmet balanced on a rifle, half-buried in a poppy field. However, the story is more about the responses by women to the war and the Spanish Influenza Outbreak, as well as tracking a rather more modern story line about sexual abuse and recovery. The jacket simply signifies the period, whereas the novel itself pays little attention to the image depicted, which suggest the Fallen, or at very least is a metonym for the high casualty rate in trench warfare. However in the novel itself, the male characters are all secondary to the heroines; none of whom visit the Front until the war has ended, at which point there is some discussion of the work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. All of these issues deal with the war, but within the book there is simply not room, or reason for lengthy descriptions of the war itself, battles or events. These are inferred rather than dwelt upon, with the assumption that the reader 'knows' already what is going on in the background.

When hero Adam Palairet writes letters of consolation home, irony is instantly connoted through the opening phrase 'He was shot through the heart… and died instantly. I am certain that he felt no pain' (Paver, 2005:80). The reader instantly knows, without recourse to the graphic description of what actually happened that follows, that the lie has been told because the horrors of war are too great for the 'uncomprehending' civilian to hear.

Of course, this technique allows inaccuracies to seep in, especially because of the ways that the war is understood. In the popular mind, very little attention is paid to the nuances of the war; indeed it is seen almost solely as a struggle fought entirely in the trenches of the Western Front, with unlimited casualties caused by unthinking generals in chateaux far behind the lines. Indeed, the popular vision of the war is almost entirely one of stereotype and assumption, and this is supported by these texts that mention the war as an aside, as they reinforce these issues rather than dissolve them. The Serpent's Tooth can perhaps be excused this to some degree as it does try hard to unearth alternative representations and attitudes towards the war; however it is certainly not alone in its limited attention to the minutiae of trench life, or the convenient lack of detail about information of how long soldiers on the Western Front spent in the Front line trenches during Active Duty.

These offhand references to the war, or the brief signifiers used to represent them have led in turn to a sort of fictionalised war in fiction, television and common understanding. I call this creation the 'War Parable' - an imaginative retelling of the war which contains its core elements but is in the greater part lead by emotive ideas about the war (horror, futility, pity) rather than actual detail. None of these ideas are 'wrong', but they do direct the war in certain ways, leading it away from historical accuracy, and towards a more ethereal reading of the war in public consciousness. Thus the reader looks more to a fictional idea of the war when the phrase 'he had been unprepared for the true horror of the trenches' serves to describe not only the trenches but the passage from innocence to experience and disillusion; from the ignorance of civilian life to the 'reality' of the trenches. The linearity of these emotively fuelled ideas, I believe, disenfranchises the true complexity of the war experience.

Dr. Esther MacCallum-Stewart is a researcher at the University of Sussex and runs our favorite First World War weblog Break of Day in the Trenches.
Click on the icon below to visit her site.

World War I Headlines
in the
21st Century

Soldier's Letter Mailed 1918 Finally Arrives

     Canadian Journalist's Question: "Was the Armenian Experience a "Genocide?" Triggers Controversy

          Woodrow Wilson's Order to Intercept US-Europe Cables

                Fresh Calls for WWI Pardons in UK

Douaumont Die Hölle von Verdun
(Douaumont: The Hell of Verdun)

By Andrew Melomet

On Christmas Day, 1915, Germany's highest commander, Erich von Falkenhayn wrote a letter to the Kaiser proposing a limited offensive on the Western Front at a single point so vital that the French would be forced "to throw in every man they have. If they do so, the forces of France will bleed to death." The objective was Verdun and Falkenhayn conceived of a battle that "would bleed France white." Falkenhayn's "Operation Judgment" would force the French to defend the venerable and vulnerable fortress of Verdun to avoid a German breakthrough. His plan was to grind up the counterattacking French reinforcements as they were feed into a front only eight miles wide. Charles de Gaulle fought at Verdun was taken prisoner at Douaumont on March 2, 1916

Douaumont Die Hölle von Verdun, directed by Heinz Paul, was released in August 1931. Paul uses a mixture of actual wartime stock-footage and reenactments played by some of the actual veterans of the battle. In modern parlance, it's a docu-drama. Paul focuses on Captain Haupt and his taking of the fort in February 1916 and what happened afterwards as his men are slowly whittled down by the constant struggle to retain the fort from the never ending French counterattacks. Other than Captain Haupt and Lieutenant Radtke the majority of the actors are forgettable. Haupt and Radtke aren't actors but there's an aura of verisimilitude in their portrayal of themselves. Overall, the quality of the acting is minimal and the budget is on the same level. It looks like the director had a bigger budget for explosions than for extras. The mass attacks seem rather meager. Still, there's something very powerful in this story. There's a roll-call sequence before the fort is retaken by the French that's poignant, as the remaining survivors answer the call and the dead are shown lying at their posts when their names are called. This title is currently available on VHS from International Historic Films (link). If you're planning on ordering, you need to know that the film is in German with German intertitles and does not have subtitles.

Heinz Paul was an important director of German war films. In addition to Douaumont, he also directed U9 Weddigen, Ein Heldenschicksal (1927), Somme, Das Grab Der Millionen (1930), and Tannenberg (1932). Die Andere Seite starring Conrad Veidt was released in October, 1931 and was a German version of R.C. Sheriff's Journey's End.

Andrew Melomet, Proprietor of Andy's Nickelodeon will answer your Great War film or video inquiry. He is also soliciting your recommendations for the WWI Filmography he is compiling for our readers. Just click HERE.

The following are thanked for their contributions to this issue of the Trip Wire: Bob Ford, Image of Arnold cover from EBay, Image of Mausoleum from Wikipedia, Christina Holstein,Tony Noyes, Esther MacCallum-Stewart, Andy Melomet, Len Shurtleff. Until next month, your editor, Mike Hanlon, who was solely responsible for the sins inflicted on Mr. Eliot's poem.

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