December 2004

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TRENCH REPORT: The Great War Society's annual Armistice/ Remembrance/ Veterans Day event in Sonoma, CA was a huge success. Our hosts Jean-Pierre and Cecile Mouraux were incredibly generous with their hospitality. We will have a photo spread in a future Trip-Wire as soon as I can scan the photos! One announcement from the meeting is too good to hold back, though. The Mouraux's have become owners of Uncle Sam's [That's Samuel Wilson, America's original Uncle Sam] boyhood home in Mason, New Hampshire. (article). . . Len Shurtleff reports: The U. S. Congress has designated the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City as America's official World War One Museum. The provision was made in the 2004 Defense Authorization Bill signed into law by President Bush on October 29, 2004. The legislation was sponsored by Missouri Senator Tim Talent and Representatives Ike Skelton and Karen McCarthy (link). . .Another correspondent reminds that we overlooked announcing the opening of the Thiepval Visitors Centre at the Somme Battlefield (link). . .Oops!


Major Bernard Law Montgomery
Royal Warwickshire Rgt & 47th Division

1887 - 1976

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

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At Great War Society Sites At the WFA-USA

The Real Deal

Princess Mary's Gift to the Troops
[See link to article below.]

This Month's
Special Feature

Christmas in the Trenches

A number of the very few remaining World War I veterans are being honored by their communities. In Nevada, Reuben Law, age 106, a driver for General Pershing's Motor Transport Corps was honored in the annual Nevada Day parade. He recalled the first Armistice Day for a reporter: "We loaded up a whole bus full of troops and went down to town (in France) to celebrate. Every girl who wandered by gave us a kiss. They were just ecstatic about the end of the war." (article)

Veteran Ferdinand Gilson a resident of Montargis, France participated in ceremonies on Armistice Day. Also 106, Ferdinand keeps his mind sharp be doing the daily crossword puzzle-In German. He recalled in one interview that he always preferred eating at night in the Trenches--to avoid seeing the worms in the meat. (link)

Correspondent Frank Womble reported that London Times recently listed 19 surviving members of the British Military from the Great War. The oldest was Henry Allingham, 108, from Eastbourne, an air mechanic aboard HMS Kingfisher at the Battle of Jutland, who was reportedly at the fighting at Ypres and the Somme. Incidentally, Trip-Wire columnists Christina Holstein expressed some statistical skepticism about our report last month that Charles Kuentz of the Lorraine is the only surviving soldier who fought for the Kaiser. We are tracking this and will publish a correction if we discover other German veterans. Christina reports, thought, that Mr. Kuentz left a wonderful impression at the ceremonies marking the 90th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. [article below]

At St. Symphorien Military Cemetery, a combined German/Commonwealth plot 2 km east of Mons, are buried: Private George Price, - the last Canadian to be killed in the war, and probably the last Commonwealth casualty, Private John Parr - the first British casualty of the war, and Private George Ellison - the last British casualty of the war.

Christmas Book Gift Suggestions
Looking for the perfect book to give to your favorite WWI buff? Two works are causing "buzzes" this holiday season. In non-fiction it is over David Stevenson's Cataclysm: The First World War as Political Tragedy (Basic Books). It has been selected by Atlantic Monthly's literary editor as one of the best books of 2004. The fictional work is Jeff Shaara's To the Last Man [Ballantines]. . .A Literary Essay just published by the Chronicle of Higher Education, Our First View of the End of the World by Professor Terry Castle of Stanford University features an eclectic list of new and classic works. (link). . .Some readers might not know that the WFA-USA awards an annual best new book award, called the Tomlinson Prize. A list of their annual winners [all outstanding works] is posted at Len's Bookshelf. (link)

Gone West

Information on a number of Great War veterans has been forwarded to us recently. . .Former Royal Navy doctor Tom Kirk, of Woolsington, Newcastle, died recently, aged 105. He had been invited by the Queen for the Remembrance Day ceremony in London this weekend but he was too frail to make the journey. . .Twenty-five German WWI soldiers found in excavations the past year at Langemarck Cemetery on 10 Nov 2004 (photos). . .Buried recently in Commonwealth War Cemeteries included: Lance Corporal John Young who died in 1915 at the Battle of Loos, during an Allied offensive to break German lines north of Lens. The remains of the soldier, of Elvanfoot, South Lanarkshire, were discovered during road building work in June 2001. L/Cpl Brown was serving with 6th Battalion The Queens Own Cameron Highlanders when he was shot and bayoneted on September 26, 1915; and Gordon Highlander John Robertson Thomson, 26, who died on October 4, 1917 at Ypres, were discovered in a private garden in 1998. The service for Private Thomson, from Lochgelly, Fife, took place at Polygon Wood Cemetery near Ieper.


WFA-USA East Coast Chapter Spring Seminar

Incl: Tour of USS Olympia, WWI Vet. At Clinton Road, Garden City, Long Island, NY

March 19, 2005 (link)
Great War Society 14th National Seminar

America & the Great War, 1914-20
Furama Hotel, Los Angeles

April 22-24, 2005 (link)
WFA-USA 16th Annual National Seminar

Virginia Military Museum At Newport News, Virgina

September 23-25, 2005 (link)
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French Machine Gunners
Wearing Primitive Gas Masks

A letter from Letter from Lt. Wilbert Spencer, Wiltshire Rgt. to his younger sister Helen; Christmas time, 1914.

My Dear little Helen

I hope you had a Happy Xmas. I wish I could have been at home but I had a very funny Xmas in a hole in the earth. We had a sort of plum pudding but I could find no sixpence in it. Thank you very very much for your lovely Xmas tree and the little pudding. I am longing to see you again and to give you a big hug.

I must stop now.

Heaps of hugs and 100 kisses

From your loving Booba

Lt. Spencer was killed in the Battle of Neuve Chappelle the following year.

Clemenceau at the Front
Page Two
Rededication of the Rainbow Division Monument
Garden City, Long Island, NY
November 11, 2004

On Armistice/Veterans Day, the newly restored monument to the 42nd Rainbow Division was rededicated at Garden City, New York. The famous division trained at nearby Camp Mills prior to its deployment in France.

The Restored Monument

The Great War Society was represented by members Jeff Milman and Karen Rohan who laid a ceremonial wreath and presented a letter of congratulations from the Society.

GWS Ambassadors Jeff Milman and Karen Rohan with Rededication Host John Donovan

Doughboy Honor Guard

Crowd Arriving

The Lion
(Jazz Pioneer Willie Smith of the 92nd Buffalo Soldier Division)

By Andrew Melomet
The Lion was a myth actually that you saw come alive.

Duke Ellington

Willie the Lion
Shanachie Entertainment ( has recently released Willie the Lion on DVD. Willie Smith was a "tickler's tickler", the composer of over 100 songs, a cantor in a Harlem synagogue and an authentic war hero. One of the creators of the piano style known as "Harlem Stride", William Henry Joseph Bonaparte Bertholoff Smith-a.k.a. "The Lion" was born in 1894 in Goshen, New York. His mother was Baptist but he took the faith of his Jewish father and had his bar mitzvah at age 13. He learned his trade by playing ragtime in turn of the century Newark, New Jersey; then an important place for jazz piano players. Newark's tenderloin was known as "the Coast" and Smith played ragtime in the saloons. Eventually, he moved to Atlantic City where in the black neighborhood known as "The Line" he developed his "stride" style where the left hand extended and varied the bass line father than standard ragtime. From Atlantic City he moved to Harlem in upper Manhattan in New York City where he became a member of the famous "Clef Club," the booking agency and union for black musicians founded by James Reese Europe. Here he further developed his style through "beautification," the merging of light classical melodic and harmonic strains with the rhythmic pulse of stride.

In September 1916, Jim Europe enlisted in the US Army infantry and was ordered to organize a regimental band. On the battlefields of France, the 15th Regiment earned the nickname "The Hellfighters" and Jim Europe became the first American black combat officer in World War I. Two months after Europe enlisted, Willie Smith traded in his imported English suits for the latest army drab. Smith ended up in a new segregated regiment for field artillery, "The Black Devils" (92nd Division, 153rd Negro Brigade, 350th Field Artillery) and helped form their own regimental band. When the call came for volunteers to fire the French 75s, Smith stepped forward and learned the complex firing mechanism in six hours, instead of the expected 30 days. He was tabbed as an A-1 gunner right off the bat. He recalled that he "shot those 75s at the Fritzies for 49 days straight without a break or any relief." A colonel commented "Smith, you're a lion with that gun," and the name stuck.

The music of the black musicians took France by storm, turning the New World sounds of jazz into an international phenomenon. Sgt. Willie Smith was not sent until a year after the Armistice but he entertained French audiences where ever he found a piano. His discharge papers read "Sgt. Smith went through the war with the 92nd Division and his conduct was excellent in battle showing nerve, faith and intuition." With the coming of Prohibition, the music scene in Harlem flourished as white audiences came looking for booze and jazz. "The Big Three," "The Three Musketeers" of Harlem stride were "The Lion," and his close friends, James P. Johnson and Fats Waller. "The Lion's" piano prowess and colorful personality made him a legend in Harlem. He mentored Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk and Billy Taylor, among others. He performed until his death in 1973. In the words of Duke Ellington, he was "beyond category."

Willie The Lion was originally written, produced and directed by Marc Fields for New Jersey Public Television. It features over twenty songs and rare performance footage of Smith. Among the interviewees and performers are Artie Shaw, Billy Taylor, Dick Hyman, Mike Lipskin, Jean Bach, and Brooks Kerr. Their reminiscences are warm and loving and provide insight into 'The Lion's" personality and musical style. If you've got an interest in jazz and American music, you'll enjoy meeting "The Lion."

Andrew Melomet, Proprietor of Andy's Nickelodeon will answer your Great War film or video inquiry. Just click HERE.

From Tony Langley's War in a Different Light

French Prisoners of War: 1915 Christmas Party
Mindful of Renoir's Grande Illusion, No?

Click Here to Visit War in a Different Light

90th Anniversary of the Battle of the Marne
By Christina Holstein

The 90th Anniversary of the First Battle of the Marne was held this year on 5 September beside the national monument to the Victory of the Marne at Mondement, France. On an incredibly hot day, several hundred people gathered to remember the critical days of 5 - 9 September 1914 and the soldiers of the Marne, both Allied and German. The Chateau at Mondement was the scene of a fierce and critical action during the battle.

In a ceremony of shared memory Belgium, Italy, Rumania, Serbia-Montenegro, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Russia, France and Great Britain were represented. The French government was represented by the Veterans? Minister, M. Mékachéra, and the Secretary of State for Integration, Mme. Vautrin. The most moving moment was the appearance for the third time of M. Charles Kuentz, 107, the last veteran in Alsace to fight under German colors. Profoundly European, M. Kuentz delivered in a strong voice the speech that he had written and in which he remembered his roots in Alsace, his service in the German army in WWI and in the French army in WWII, the death of his son in Normandy in 1944 and his belief in a united Europe.

Ceremonial Color Guard

Chateau & National Monument

Details of Monument [Discussed Below]

107 Yr Old WWI Veteran Charles Kuentz

Officials Arriving

The photos of the event show the unique National Monument. The monument is seen from the northern side, i.e. the side from which the Germans came. It is a monolith of concrete, although it looks like pink granite. It is about 30 mtrs high, with as much again underground. It represents the traditional 'borne'. i.e. a stone in the ground to mark a boundary or line which must not be crossed. The extrusion on the top third is an angel armed with thunderbolts and lightening. The inscriptions on it are in old-fashioned 'Gaulish-syle' print and around the bottom is a relief of Joffre with the French generals who fought at the Marne and Field Marshal French. Joffre has his arm around the shoulder of the most important person in the battle of the Marne, the French poilu, who is taller than any of the generals except Joffre. The site of the monument was chosen by Foch and the design was by Joffre.

The following are thanked for their contributions to this issue of the Trip Wire: Christina Holstein, Ken Record, Len Shurtleff, Jeff Milman, Karen Rohan, Tony Langley, Kate Connolly, Frank Womble, Andy Melomet, Matt Church, Len Shurtleff, Walt Kudlick and Susan Neeson. Sidney Clark provided the photo for our Christmas Card which is the 91st Division Monument and Fort Lewis, Washington. Lt. Spencer's letter is from the archives of the Imperial War Museum. Until next month, your editor, Mike Hanlon.

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