May 2007

Access Archives

TRENCH REPORT:Greetings. May's Trip-Wire has been delivered to you a little early because on April 28th I'm off the the Western Front to lead Valor Tour's 2007 WWI group trip. Plus: I have another surprise for our regular readers. My old, decrepit computer system needs replacement. I have ordered a new Dell system to be delivered shortly after my return. If all goes smoothly, next month's issue should be available on schedule. However, I am a bit concerned that the software and files I've come to rely on for almost a decade can be used with the new Windows Vista operating system, which is a technological quantum leap for me. We will be back in touch soon, though, one way or the other. MH

This Month's Internet Focus:
Signature WWI Equipment -
The Gas Mask
The Real Deal

French Officers & Colonial Troops
at Gallipoli - 1915

New at Our Own & Our Friends' Great War Websites

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

In WWI, only one per thousand draftees in the German army was illiterate -- itself an astonishing fact -- as against 68 per thousand in the French army and 330 per thousand in Italy's.

Cartoon from the Stanford University magazine, The Chapparal, May 1917

Victoria: I just hate war and fighting!
Victor: Well let's just go see the justice of the peace.

'Les chose ne peuvent ne pas s'arranger'
Things must turn out all right.

Jean Jaurès
Shortly before his assassination
on the eve of war.

Fort Dix will celebrate its 90th Birthday July 18. The post opened in 1917 as Camp Dix for training soldiers for the American Expeditionary Force. They are seeking any World War I reenactors or vintage vehicle collectors who might want to join us for the celebration. Contact their Public Affairs Officer, Carolee J. Nisbet.

General Pershing Congratulating the French Cross Country Champion at the 1919 Inter-Allied Games in Paris (At Pershing Stadium!)

The Price of War: Over 330,000 Australian Diggers served in their nation's expeditionary force, and 226,000 became casualties, including 59,258 who were killed. This recent Anzac Day (April 25th) was only the second to be celebrated without a single surviving Digger.

Late Arriving Announcement: The East Coast Chapter of the WFA has announced a seminar to be held on Saturday 2 June at 9 AM at the U.S. Army Ordnance Museum in Aberdeen, Maryland. Matthew Kowalski will speak on Imperial Russia's involvement in the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. After lunch, there will be a guided tour of the U.S. Army Ordinance Museum. (email for more information.)
          German Soldier
by Crown Prince Wilhelm, c. 1915


Double Ace Seminar
League of World War I
Aviation Historians

May 11-12, 2007
Holiday Inn Rosslyn in Arlington, VA (link)
90th Anniversary
Palestine Campaign
International Conference

September 3-6, 2007
Tel-Hai Academic College in Upper Galilee, Israel (email for details)
What We Fought
Each Other For

18th National Seminar

September 7-9, 2007
Naval War College Newport, RI  (Full Program)
T. E. Lawrence: A Symposium

The Huntington Library,
October 5-6, 2007
San Marino, CA (email for info.)
International Society for First World War Studies
International Conference

October 18-20, 2007
Georgetown University, Wash., D.C. (link)
Western Front Association
U.S. Branch Chapter Meetings

Check for Your Region
Regularly Updated
Great War Society Monthly Chapter Meetings

Berkeley, San Francisco and Palo Alto, CA
Regularly Updated
Send additions/corrections:
Email Response

Memorable Event

Petain Named French

May 15, 1917

Click on Image for More Information

Media and Events

WWI Music

I get a lot of requests for information on purchasing WWI music. Here is a new 2-CD Music set I'm bringing along to play for my fellow travelers on my Western Front tour. Unlike other such collections, it has a strong American component including Al Jolson and Enrico Caruso's multi-language rendition ofOver There. Click on the image for ordering information.

The Joliet (Illinois) Area Historical Museum is presenting "Songs of the Patriot," a varied and colorful collection of World War I era sheet music covers, from April 6 to July 8.
Also, reader/contributor Len Shurtleff has recommended an addition to last month's list of classical music inspired by the Great War: Igor Stravinsky's L'Histoire du Soldat ("A Soldier's Tale"), a narration with music composed in 1918 at the outset of Stravinsky's (The Firebird, The Rite of Spring) exile from Russia.

The Descendents and Friends of the 314th Infantry (79th Division, AEF) has announced their 86th annual Memorial Day service at Washington Memorial Chapel, Valley Forge, PA., Sunday May 27th at 2:00 P.M. Their speaker this year is Colonel Robert J. Dalessandro, Director of the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center.
Want to Visit the Battlefields?
Click Here for News on Travel Opportunities

The Battle of Vimy Ridge (after Richard Jack), 1917
(See News Stories About Last Month's Rededication of the Vimy Memorial Below)
Subscribe to Our New On-Line Magazine
Page Two

Gone West

Lloyd Brown, the last known surviving World War I U.S. Navy veteran, died on Thursday in Charlotte Hall Veterans Home in Maryland. He was 105. (link)

VA Press Release (Better Late Than Never?)

VA Searching for Last Doughboys of World War I
Only Four Believed Still Alive
WASHINGTON (April 4, 2007) -- With the number of known living American veterans of World War I now standing at four, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is seeking public assistance in determining whether others are still alive.

"These veterans have earned the gratitude and respect of the nation," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson. "We are coming to the end of a generation that helped bring the United States to the center of the international arena."

The four known surviving World War I veterans are John Babcock, 102, from Puget Sound, Wash.; Frank Buckles, 106, Charles Town, W.Va.; Russell Coffey, 108, North Baltimore, Ohio; and Harry Landis, 107, Sun City Center, Fla. Babcock is an American who served in the Canadian Army. The other three survivors were in the U.S. Army.

WWI Claims Another Victim

By Christina Holstein

At the end of March, an explosion in a quiet street in Verdun killed a young man of 21. He was handling a German 17cm trench mortar shell when the fuse detonated, blowing off his leg and burning him severely. When the emergency services arrived, they found that the garden shed in which the young man was lying was literally paved with scores of other live shells and that he had, in addition, a substantial collection of other battlefield debris, including grenades, rifles and fuses. The amount of ammunition removed from the garden by the French army bomb disposal service was two and a half tons!

Artillery Shells Recently Discovered at Mort Homme, NW of Verdun
As if this was not enough, in the course of their investigations the emergency services found an even greater stock of illegal battlefield debris in a neighbouring house belonging to an elderly widow. When approached by the gendarmerie, she explained that her husband had collected shells and other debris from the battlefield since 1954 and that they were not dangerous. Despite her protests, the gendarmerie removed from the house a stunning three and a half tons of assorted live shells and other battlefield scrap. In a normal year, the French bomb disposal services deal with about 45 tons of unexploded ordnance in the three French departments of Moselle, Meurthe-and-Moselle and Meuse and here in two days in the centre of Verdun, they had found six tons.

Other Artifacts Like This Ammo Box and Mess Kit are Still Found on the Battlefields
The possession of battlefield debris of any sort is absolutely prohibited in France and can lead to heavy fines and terms of imprisonment. Despite that, people still collect and try to open shells and grenades of all types, often believing that because they are ninety years old, they are no longer dangerous. According to the gendarmerie, however, the shells are even more dangerous now than they were during the war, because their age has made them unstable. And with hundreds of thousands of shells fired each day for 10 months, they still exist in huge quantities. The French army estimates that it will take 300 years to clear the Verdun battlefield of all unexploded ordnance. With such a vast quantity remaining, it is likely that there will be more fatal accidents in future among collectors who continue to believe that they are not dangerous.

A Sad Footnote: [Received from Christina After She Had Submitted the Piece Above:

There was some sad news today (April 18, 2007). Two members of the French Army bomb disposal service were killed today, 18th April, in the explosion of WWI shells at Pont-à-Mousson, eastern France, that were being prepared for transfer to the French army camp at Suippes, where they were to be destroyed. Both men were involved in removing the shells from the house of the young man killed in Verdun at the end of March.

Erich Ludendorff
First German Hero
Arguably, Germany's first hero of World War I was none other than Erich Ludendorff, who gained his initial fame during the seige of Liège. When the commander of the 14th Infantry Brigade, which was charged with taking the city, died -- Ludendorff took command on August 5, 1914. His troops captured the city of Liège two days later and he called for siege guns to invest the forts. By August 16, all forts around Liège had fallen, allowing the Schlieffen Plan to proceed. As hero of Liège, Ludendorff was awarded Germany's highest military decoration for gallantry, the Pour le Mérite, presented by the Kaiser on August 22 before heading to the East. (From Wikipedia)

Interesting Contrast from Contemporary French Periodicals:
Pious French Soldiers at Mass in the Argonne vs. The Blood-Stained German Debauchers
Click Here to Visit War in a Different Light

1917 on The Western Front


The Mutinies Spread

They were coined as "acts of collective indiscipline".

Various units with very good fighting records had come back from the blazing front in a state of moral disintegration towards the end of April. On 29th April the first mutiny was reported by the 2nd Battalion of the 16th Infantry Regiment. They had been reduced from a nominal 600 men to only 200 by the morning after the assault, and were marched back to their miserable billets in Soissons where their comfort was generally ignored. So they drifted, unwanted, and with the rumours floating that they would be transferred to a 'quiet' front in Alsace. On 29th April they were ordered back to the front. They refused but after midnight were somehow led back to the front by the Colonel appealing to them 'On behalf of your mates already at the Front'. The Military Police picked out a number of men reputed to be ringleaders, and in short order the majority were sentenced to imprisonment in French Guinea -- a death sentence in that disease-ridden place. Five men were sentenced to be shot, and sentence was carried out on June 12th.

Notwithstanding the speed at which this mutiny was suppressed, others immediately followed it, these actions accelerating into May with no end in sight. At this time there were about 1000 battalions in the French Army, and it was eventually thought that at least half of them could not be trusted to go into action, although it was thought they would hold the trenches--but no more. In my personal opinion these "acts of collective indiscipline" were brought about by the many broken promises to the troops, bad battle management leading to frightening losses amongst the infantry ever since 1914, and senior staff incomprehension of the living conditions of the French private soldier (the Poilu) or of their need for comfort when in rest and out of the line. Nivelle was acrimoniously fired after accusing his senior army commanders of mismanagement despite their advising him previously of their fears for the campaign.

He was replaced in May by General Petain who then had the terrible job of restoring hope and morale to the ailing French army. He did this brilliantly and managed to restore an element of trust in the average Poilu, due to his long association with the fighting men. He introduced proper leave rosters, proper rest camps, proper food facilities, allowed junior officers to report up the chain of command so that their (junior) voices could be heard, and allowed the Colonels of the Regiments to carry out such sentences against known mutineers as they deemed necessary.

Later that year, he actually managed to launch various 'set piece' attacks, notably to extend the French lines away from Verdun in the summer and to clear Fort Malmaison at the west end of the Chemin des Dames in October. He accepted that the French army was in no mood to launch any more large-scale assaults but knew that the men would "hold the line" to the best of their ability.

"Ground Zero" for the Mutinies
Haig was not told of the actual problem but, trusting Petain, continued with the Battle of Arras into May to try to keep some German pressure off the French. He was successful but at the cost of a heavier daily casualty rate than the army had suffered on the Somme, and the battle finally petered out in stalemate in May. The casualties in April and May amounted to some 148,000, a daily rate higher than those of the Somme the previous year.

Previously, in April and then in May, the Australians tried to break the Hindenburg line opposite the village of Bullecourt, not far from Arras. Despite absolutely valiant efforts, they were not successful and again suffered heavy casualties. Even today, a walk over this small battlefield shows what a daunting problem they had. The sunken road which was the German front line is still there, as is the (now derelict) railway line that was the Australian start line.

French Troops Near Soissons
Possibly During Mutinies
In Flanders the British General Plumer commanding 2nd Army was, in the meantime, successfully completing the mining of the Messines Ridge as a forerunner to an attack north of Ypres to break out of the Salient. The Germans sitting on the ridge had an excellent view into the rear of the British positions in the Salient, and this menace had to be removed first. If Haig could then reach Zeebrugge and Bruges he could destroy the U-boat bases and remove the U-boat menace from the incoming convoys to the UK, which were being decimated.

So far, 1917 had not been a very successful year. But no doubt the two coming battles of Messines and Ypres would be successful

In September 1917 the British Army also experienced some "collective indiscipline" at the Etaples base camp near Boulogne, notorious among the troops for the heavy-handed training methods used there.

If you are travelling to Europe and would like to visit these fields of memory for a detailed tour, please contact experienced guides Tony Noyes or Christina Holstein at Verdun Tours

A display gathered for the Hesford family by our friend, ace researcher and frequent contributor Sidney Clark. William Hesford's family had read about Sidney's discovery of the very young Yank's service in the British Army on the Trip-Wire. Check William's age at his death.
Page Three

Our Interview Series With
Great War Authors
This Month Featuring Edward Paice

British author Edward Paice has produced a new look at the war in Africa titled Tip & Run: The Untold Tragedy of the Great War in Africa that has received outstanding reviews. If you are not familiar with this topic, Mr. Paice points out the enormous costs incurred by the combatants in this forgotten sector. According to his introduction, "The expense to the British treasury of the of the East African campaign ...was unofficially estimated at more than 700 million pounds (roughly 2.8 billion pounds in today's money)." Further he assesses the "butcher's bill" among "African soldiers and military carriers recruited from East Africa alone exceeded 45,000 -- or one in eight of the country's adult male population...and among all British Imperial combatant and support units who took the field in East African theatre of war the official death toll exceeded 100,000 men...and the true figure may have been as much as double the official tally." And, on page 6 he adds, "More than 100,000 Allied troops and one million military carriers were engaged during the campaign in trying to bring to heel a foe one tenth the[ir] size..."

We asked our frequent contributor Len Shurtleff, who--as you will see--is extremely well versed in African affairs to interview Mr. Paice for our readers. Click here to read the interview.

World War I Headlines
in the
21st Century

Focusing on the Rededication of the Vimy Ridge Memorial, April 2007

Queen Elizabeth Rededicates Vimy Ridge Memorial on Battle's 90th Anniversary

    Canadian Students Travel to Vimy

      Canadian Troops in Afghanistan Mark Vimy Ridge

          Labor of Love: Rebuilding the Vimy Memorial

Ace of Aces

By Andrew Melomet

John Monk
John Monk Saunders received one of the first Academy Awards for his screenplay for Wings (1927).Saunders was born in Hinckley, Minnesota on November 22, 1897. In 1917 he trained at the U.S. School of Military Aeronautics in Berkeley, California. He served as a second lieutenant in the Signal Corps' aviation section during World War I. He graduated from the University of Washington in 1919 and was a Rhodes Scholar at Magdalen College, Oxford. After the war, he lived in Europe before returning to the U.S., where he worked for the Los Angeles Times, the New York Tribune, and American Magazine. He married his second wife, Fay Wray, in 1927.

When Saunders wrote the original story for Wings, the first epic of the fliers of World War I, it was Saunders's first major story credit in Hollywood and set him up as one of the men who could "write gutsy, ballsy stories" according to Warner Bros. studio head Jack Warner. Wings was a breakthrough for Saunders. But his most important film credit came in 1930 with an 11-page story, "The Flight Commander." Howard Hawks directed the movie The Dawn Patrol based on the story, and the movie became a classic.

Saunders was a full-fledged member of what was called "The Lost Generation" - a glamorous, good-looking young man of refined breeding and excellent education who drank a lot and had a strong self-destructive streak. He had a reputation as a womanizer, and one night Zelda Fitzgerald volunteered to castrate him with a pair of editor's shears! He and Wray finally divorced with William J. "Wild Bill" Donovan of "The Fighting 69th" advising Wray on the separation and divorce. Saunders drifted away from Hollywood and in March 1940 was found hanged in a closet in Fort Myers, Florida.

The view of the First World War as a horrific, man-devouring waste spread to movies about aerial combat. The war in the air was seen as harrowing as the war on the ground. Saunders supplied the stories for a number of films in which the air war is no longer filled with gallantry and fearless men. The fliers, constantly facing death, are afraid. Commanders are destroyed by their responsibilities. And everyone drinks to dull the pain.

You might think that Saunders's stories could only have been told by someone with firsthand experience in France. But Saunders spent the war in the United States as a flight instructor, and the Armistice came before he was called to Europe. He was at a flying field in Florida as an instructor when he heard the war ended. That night he went to his plane, leaned against the propeller, and cried. Saunders heard a lot of war stories from British, Canadian, and French fliers while at Oxford, as well as from Yanks when he lodged at the American Flying Club in New York upon his return from Europe.

The effect of war on a man's character is vividly presented in Ace of Aces (1933), directed by J. Walter Ruben and based on a story, "Bird of Prey," by Saunders. Richard Dix (1893-1949, a WWI army veteran in real life) stars as a Rex "Rocky" Thorne, a pacifist sculptor who enlists when his fiancée Nancy Adams (Elizabeth Allan), an American Red Cross nurse accuses him of cowardice. The air war has a brutalizing effect on the sensitive artist. He is transformed into a bloodthirsty killer. Thorne gets to the point where he takes delight in loading his own machine gun belts, every night, bullet by bullet with murderous glee. "This is a great war, and I'm having a grand time" he says. After shooting down forty German planes, he becomes the "Ace of Aces." He's so ruthless and efficient that his squadron mates dislike him because he "doesn't give the enemy a chance."

His fiancée encounters him when he's in Paris for some drinking and whoring. She doesn't like what she sees: the air war she has shamed him into joining has ruined him. He passes up his whoring to coerce her into spending the night with him. What a cad!

While recovering from a minor wound Thorne finds himself in a hospital bed next to a young German cadet he shot down. The German has a painful stomach wound, and constantly screams for some forbidden water. The young cadet's hysteria and torment bring home the reality of killing. He eventually silences the wounded man by giving him water and effectively killing him. When Thorne looks at his box of medals he asks himself "Are these worth forty-two dead men? Are they worth one dead man?" When he goes up again, he's too haunted to fight back and is shot down.

While Ace of Aces is not a masterpiece, it's entertaining and thought-provoking with a number of interesting touches. When Thorne is initially confronted by his fiancée in his studio he compares the soldiers marching outside his window to lemmings. She marks him with yellow chalk, signifying his cowardice. The pacifism of this and other 1930s war films is honest in depicting the unsettling effect that World War I had on American society. There's an honesty about war and its consequences that's absent from most American war films.

Killing is viewed by Saunders as a primitive function, and the pilots in Thorne's squadron have pets that serve as totem animals as if they were tribal warriors. Significantly, Thorne's pet/totem animal is a lion, a killer beast. The other pilots have funny mascots- a pig, a parrot, a chimp, a dog.

Richard Dix
When Thorne was accused of cowardice by his fiancée, he wiped the yellow chalk signifying cowardice on his clothes. When wounded in his first air battle, Thorne wipes his blood on his clothes signifying his change into a warrior.

Aircraft used in Ace of Aces include Waco 7s, Nieuport 28s, a Curtiss Jenny and a LF-1 (J-4 Wright-powered replica). It was filmed in the Trifuno Canyon area, now part of Thousand Oaks, California.

Saunders's World War I and aviation-themed screenplays and stories include Wings (1927), Legion of the Condemned (1928), She Goes To War (1929), The Dawn Patrol AKA Flight Commander (1930) The Last Flight (1931), The Eagle and the Hawk (1933), Devil Dogs of the Air (1935), West Point of the Air (1935) and Conquest of the Air (1940).

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: Donna Cunningham, Frank Jordan, Tony Langley, Christina Holstein, Tony Noyes, Andy Melomet, Kimball Worcester, and Len Shurtleff; the many of you who sent the items for "Gone West"; the Ontario Provincial Archives for the Vimy Ridge painting; and the Gutenberg Project for the Soissons map. Until next month, your editor, Mike Hanlon.
(Or send it to a friend)
(Or send us a comment on the TRIP-WIRE)

For further information on the events of 1914-1918 and membership information visit the Directory Pages of:

  •      The Great War Society

  •      The Western Front Association, U.S. Branch

  •      Over the Front -- League of WWI Aviation Historians