August 2007

Access Archives

TRENCH REPORT: Thanks to all the messages I receive from you readers, I think I'm as well informed about current events related to World War I as anyone could be. With this in mind, you might then be able to gauge the utter surprise I experienced at my neighborhood coffee shop a few weeks ago. I opened the local newspaper, the West County Times, and discovered an obituary for William Seegers, one of the last veterans of the Kaiser's Army, who -- as it turns out -- had resided four blocks from me for the past year. When I called his gracious daughter Virginia Harrison and spoke to her and her son, I further discovered William had been feeling well for most of that time, and would have enjoyed a chat with me about his memories. If I had only known. It would have been wonderful meeting him and then sharing his recollections with you. I did, however, pass on the condolences of our readers and the members of the WWI organizations to the family over their loss. Down in our "Gone West" section you will see an entry for William and a link to an excellent article on his war service and interesting life. Virginia has promised us some wartime photos of her dad after she visits the family homestead in the Philadelphia area. MH

This Month's Internet Focus:
H.G. Wells and the
First World War

The Real Deal

British Tommies Advance Past Dead German Soldier

New at Our Own & Our Friends' Great War Websites

Click on Title or Icon to Access
Friend and Historian August Blume Has an Outstanding Site Covering the Eastern Front:

At Great War Society Sites
The Great War Society Announces
Seminar 2008 War at Sea & in the Air
April 11-13    South San Francisco
(Click for Details)

At the WFA-USA

George Sainton Kaye Butterworth, the gifted British composer best known for his settings of A. E. Housman's poems, was killed by a sniper at Pozieres during the Battle of the Somme. However, his body was never found, and he is listed on the memorial at Thiepval Ridge with 73,000 other men who fell in the battle but whose remains were never found.

I expected my sentence and believe it was just. Standing, as I do, in the view of God and eternity I realize that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness to anyone.

Edith Cavell, before her execution

          Home on Leave (detail)
Brynolf Wennerberg, 1915


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

Papal Peace Initiative

August 1, 1917

Click on Image for More Information

Media and Events

Trench Exhibit at Carlisle: The U.S. Army Heritage Trail at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, now includes WWI Trench and Lost Battalion exhibits along with depictions of Valley Forge, Antietam, Omaha Beach and other notable American Battlefields. (link)

Company K: Our film reviewer, Andrew Melomet, has discovered that the 2004 independent film production based on William March Campbell's Doughboy classic, Company K, is to receive a limited theatrical release soon with DVD sales to follow. We will present more details as they become available.

Battlefields Review, Issue 27, has a very interesting three page article on using Global Positioning System (GPS) on the battlefields. Using GPS, one can find anything on the battlefields that is presently hidden from view, e.g., trenches, pillboxes, etc.

Austrian Uniforms in 1914
Recent Ceremony at Cantigny

Base Dedicated for the Doughboy Statue Sponsored by the First Division Foundation and Museum
To Be Unveiled Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Want to Visit the Battlefields?
Click Here for News on Travel Opportunities

Page Two

Gone West

One of Britain's last surviving First World War veterans has died aged 107, leaving only five British survivors of the 1914-18 campaign. William Young, a former trench-based radio operator, was the last known veteran of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), the forerunner of the Royal Air Force. He died in his sleep earlier this week in Perth, Western Australia, where he lived with his wife May and their son. (link)

William Seegers, 106, a veteran of the German Army, died in Richmond California on July 10th. Drafted late in the war, he was assigned to the 71st Erfurt Battalion. He did mostly office work, but pulled guard duty including watching over prisoners of war. He contracted the influenza at the war's end. William came to America in 1922 and raised his family in the Philadelphia area. He was staying with his daughter Virginia Harrison in Richmond when he died. (link)

Bill Young, the last Scottish veteran of the First World War, has died at the age of 107 at his home in Australia. The war hero served with the Royal Flying Corps during the 1914-1918 war and was held captive by the Japanese in the Second World War. (link)

Eyewitness: France Mobilizes in 1914

Place de la Concorde, August 1914
In the days that followed the Second of August I saw the whole meaning of mobilization in France-the call of a nation to arms-from Paris to the Eastern frontier, and the drama of it all stirs me now as I write, though many months have passed since then and I have seen more awful things on the harvest fields of death. More awful, but not more pitiful. For even in the sunshine of that August, before blood had been spilt and the brooding specter of war had settled drearily over Europe, there was a poignant tragedy beneath the gallantry and the beauty of that squadron of cavalry that I had seen riding out of their barrack gates to entrain for the front. The men and the horses were superb clean-limbed, finely trained, exquisite in their pride of life. As they came out into the streets of Paris the men put on the little touch of swagger which belongs to the Frenchman when the public gaze is on him. Even the horses tossed their heads and seemed to realize the homage of the populace.

Hundreds of women were in the crowd, waving handkerchiefs, springing forward out of their line to throw bunches of flowers to those cavaliers, who caught them and fastened them to kepi and jacket. The officers-young dandies of the Chasseurs- carried great bouquets aready and kissed the petals in homage to all the womanhood of France whose love they symbolized. There were no tears in that crowd, though the wives and sweethearts of many of the young men must have stood on the curbstone to watch them pass.

In the streets of Paris in those first days of the war I saw many scenes of farewell. All day long one saw them, so that at last one watched them without emotion because the pathos of them became monotonous. It was curious how men said goodbye, often, to their wives and children and comrades at a street corner, or in the middle of the boulevards. A hundred times or more I saw one of these conscript soldiers who had put on his uniform again after years of civilian life, turn suddenly to the woman trudging by his side or to a group of people standing round him and say: "Alors, il faut dire 'Adieu' et 'Au revoir' ! "

Typical Scene Described by Gibbs
One might imagine that he was going on a weekend visit and would be back again in Paris on Monday next. It was only by the long-drawn kiss upon the lips of the woman who raised a dead white face to him and by the abruptness with which the man broke away and walked off hurriedly until he was lost in the passing crowds that one might know that this was as likely as not the last parting between a man and a woman who had known love together and that each of them had seen the vision of death which would divide them on this side of the grave. The stoicism of the Frenchwomen was wonderful. They made no moan or plaint. They gave their men to "La Patrie" with the resignation of religious women who offer their hearts to God. Some spiritual fervour, which in France permeates the sentiment of patriotism, giving a beauty to that tradition of nationality which, without such a spirit, is the low and ignorant hatred of other peoples, strengthened and uplifted them.

Reported by Correspondent Phillip Gibbs

Sleeping Beauty #3
on the Western Front

By Christina Holstein

This month's forgotten vestige of WWI is a concrete trench line in the Ormont region to the southeast of Molleville Farm on the east side of the Meuse, northeast of Verdun. The trench, which runs altogether for about 300 yards, is backed by an observation platform built between two oak trees. The views from this platform provided the Germans on the ground with information about the advancing American troops and allowed them to organize their resistance. The area was finally taken by the AEF's 79th Division at the beginning of November 1918.

Artist's Depiction of German Trench at the Aisne, September 1914
WWI Trench Warfare Began Here
[Compare to the Trench above in "Sleeping Beauties"]

Click Here to Visit War in a Different Light

1917 on The Western Front
By Tony Noyes

July 31 - August 31

The Opening of

The waiting was not only an imposition on the troops: it was not until 25th July that the British politicians offered their final support to Haig! And the waiting came to an end on a very damp morning at 3:50 a.m. on, Tuesday, July 31st. The British guns had been hammering the German lines for two weeks, firing over 4 million shells, and now the infantry went over the top on a twelve-mile front.

Tanks were used both here and later but almost without exception sank or bogged into the August mud, which grew almost on a daily basis. On the afternoon of the first day it rained heavily, and the beeks began to rise, having lost their centuries old courses due to the incessant shelling. (I have walked in Passchendaele mud many times. It weighs mightily on your boots, sticks to everything and permeates your skin). It is evil.

British Artillery Position in the Salient
There had been some changes in the boundaries of the British Armies prior to this time redistributing the responsibilities of the generals. "Thruster" Gough was placed in charge of the main assault. "Daddy" Plumer who had controlled the Salient for many months was given a lesser role. Haig thought that Plumer's methods were not forceful enough for this breakout battle, whereas Gough's were. On the German side was General Sixt von Arnim who had lost the battle at Messines but was a clever and determined fighter. The battlefield is very roughly divided by the Menin Road running SW to NE. There was early success to the West but little to the East where the Germans manned extensive defences to guard against any further losses at Gheluvelt, facing Messines. In general terms, these were a multitude of concrete pill boxes, often sunk to ground level on reverse slopes and each covering several others with interlocking fields of fire. Some still exist in ruins, and the fields of fire they cover are mind-bending. To the attacking troops they were almost impossible to see, and it was necessary to design new tactics immediately to deal with them. A frontal attack was impossible so it was necessary to approach from the sides or, preferably, the rear. But these methods could easily be negated by incoming crossfire from other pill boxes.

The problem was obvious, the answer unknown. Flamethrowers were not in common use, a smoke barrage was generally unheard of when attacking a small cluster of strong points, and inevitably it came down to the courage of the lone infantry man..and his luck. If the shelling had moved the nearby landscape so that some of the incoming gunfire was negated, if he could look above the rubbish of the battlefield to register this fact, if he could see a way forward through the slime, if he could make the perilous journey to the pillbox and still live, he could with luck put a grenade through the firing slot and stay alive. Many Victoria Crosses were won in the battle, nearly all of them for destroying strong-points.

It rained heavily for the next four days. Fierce, bloody and indecisive fighting took place in the old No Mans Land during these fearful days. On the fifth day, the rain stopped but the weather left only sullen skies and intermittent rain. The mud grew deeper and wider. Haig instructed a Canadian attack against Hill 70 at Loos far to the south. The attack was successful, but it did not weaken the German position or manpower in the Salient. Fighting intensified for ever smaller positions both by attack and counterattack, and many woods and pillboxes were to the point of absolute extermination of the place in question and its garrison.

It continued: by mid-August 3½ inches of rain had fallen. Men began to drown in the mud. They or their shattered remains are still entombed below the verdant farmland of the Salient; I have been present when their remains were excavated by the War Graves Staff. There are nearly 54,000 names of men on the Menin Gate and a further 34,000 listed at Tyne Cot; they have all disappeared here, somewhere, and have no known grave. The Germans suffered equally, and the Salient must be the biggest graveyard of unknown soldiers in the world.

Haig asked Plumer to extend his lines to the north to break the ongoing deadlock on the Menin Road. This he did, but with the proviso that future operations would be against limited objectives on a "Bite and Hold" basis. Haig accepted. Plumer continued with his planning into September. By the end of August, Haig had lost over 68,000 men since 3:50am on the 31st of July, many of them drowned. Tanks were bogging in the ever deepening mud. He was going to have to make decision whether to continue the battle or not. The politicians in London were waiting.
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

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Page Three

Klip-Klip's Epic Parody

By Kimball Worcester

Parody and satire are two weapons in the soldier's arsenal that are designed to defend and protect him from the psychic wounds so easily incurred at the front. The Western Front produced the classic Wipers Times, and the Salonika Front had its Balkan News. The latter originally published in serial form "The Song of Tiadatha" by Maj. Owen Rutter (7th Wiltshires), his parody of Longfellow's "Song of Hiawatha" that traces the experiences of the hapless "tired Arthur" throughout the war.

1930 Title Page
In this war the Hun has brought us,
Some have learnt to make returns out,
Some have learnt to write out orders.
Some have learnt the way to kill Huns,
Some to lead the men that kill them,
Some have learnt to cope with bully,
Learnt to shave with army razors,
Learnt to make the best of blizzards,
Mud and slush and blazing sunshine,
Learnt to coax a little comfort
Out of bivvies, barns and dugouts,
Learnt of things they never dreamed of
In July of 1914.

And they all have learnt this lesson,
Learnt as well this common lesson,
Learnt to hold a little dearer
And the things they took for granted
In July of 1914-

Whether it be Scottish Highlands,
Hills of Wales or banks of Ireland,
Or the swelling downs of Dudshire,
Or the pavement of St. James's --
Even so my Tiadatha.

After the war Rutter became a well-known travel writer (link) and died in 1944.

The verse is unpolished, but the strength of feeling takes precedence here and reaches out to a wide audience. The ordinary, long-suffering soldier, unglorified but held in common affection seems a particularly 20th-century literary figure. Consider The Good Soldier Schweik (Jaroslav Hasek), Joseph Heller's oddments in Catch 22, and our Salonika veteran, "Tiadatha".

Excerpt -- Part XVII, "Home at Last," pp. 142-44 -- was published originally in September 1918. The full work, Song of Tiadatha by Major Owen Rutter, [New York]: Duffield & Company, MCMXXX, is hard to locate.
[Excerpt & image courtesy of The World War I Document Archive and Brigham Young University] (link)

Sidney Clark's Unknown Great War Memorials

[With this entry we start a periodic series from long-time Trip-Wire contributor Sidney Clark of Guilsfield Village in Wales. As you regular readers know, Sidney goes far out of the way to help families research forgotten gravesites for the fallen of all the war's combatants.]

The photo below shows the monument and graves of four American airmen who are buried in Ayr Cemetery, Ayrshire Scotland. They were killed while training nearby. All came from Chicago except Lt. Nathan, who came from Boston. The memorial and the engravings are in immaculate condition, Alongside the memorial are the actual graves for each man, with a small flat tablet showing the dates of birth and death and his home state.

Sidney Clark

World War I Headlines
in the
21st Century

Last Survivor of Passchendaele Interviewed

   The Veteran, 109, Next Revisited a WWI Trench

       More on Aussie Grave Site Near Fromelles

         World War One French Cognac Discovered in Macedonia

Les Brigades Du Tigre

By Andrew Melomet

Set in "La Belle Époque", Les Brigades Du Tigre ("The Tiger Brigades") is based on a hit French TV series of the same name from the 1970s. Its evocative TV theme music by Big Band legend Claude Bolling brings back the same nostalgic thoughts to a Frenchman as the theme from Hawaii 5-0, Batman or The Twilight Zone does for us here in the States.

Contemporary News Report
This feature film version was directed by Jérôme Cornuau and was released in France in 2006. Les Brigades Du Tigre is based on fact. When Georges Clemenceau ("The Tiger") was Minister of the Interior in prewar France, he authorized the creation of the first "specialized" units of police, a kind of Gallic "Untouchables." These twelve units were equipped with the most modern technology police science had available at the time: the telegraph, the motor car, the typewriter, photographic analysis and identification through fingerprints and facial recognition composite drawings. This was very cool cutting-edge stuff in 1912, the year the movie takes place.

There's a lot of real history and real people in Les Brigades Du Tigre: the scandal of the Russian Loans, Alphonse Bertillon and the beginning of modern police techniques, the deadly rivalry of the Parisian Prefecture and the Tiger Brigades, Jean Jaurès, the Socialist pacifist publisher, and the criminal anarchists who followed the philosophy of illegalism.

The film has an all-star European cast with Clovis Comillac (Les Chevaliers Du Ciel/"Sky Fighters"), Edouard Baer, Gerard Jugnot(Les Choristes/"The Chorus"), Olivier Gourmet (L'enfant/"The Child"), Diane Kruger (Joyeux Noel/"Merry Christmas") and Stefano Accorsi (Le Fate Ignoranti/"His Secret Life"). Cormillac, Baer and Gourmet are the "A" Team, and Accorsi is the rookie trying to make good. Jugnot is their chief, Faivre. And Kruger is a Russian princess in league with the infamous Bonnot Gang.

The Bonnot Gang did exist. Octave Garnier, Raymond Callemin and Rene Valet were its founders. Jules Bonnot was a criminal anarchist, although not the leader of the gang that bore his name. He joined the Paris-based gang in December 1911. The gang made headlines on December 21st, when they robbed a messenger of the Societé General Bank in broad daylight and made their getaway in a motor car. The gang was actually first called "The Auto Gang" because of its use of motor cars, which was Garnier's idea. This was the first motorized getaway. And it's the first action highlight in the film.

DVD Cover
Jules Bonnot was a publicity hound and contacted the newspapers, so he became well-known. The gang eventually became known as "The Bonnot Gang" in the French press. The Sureté Chief Xavier Guichard took charge of pursuing the anarchist gang. (Guichard is the man Maigret reports to in the crime novels by Georges Simenon.) A massive crackdown and roundup of gang members took place after a bloody March 25, 1912 bank robbery. By the end of April 1912, Jules Bonnot, Octave Garnier and Rene Valet were still at large.

Bonnot was on the run in April 1912 and on his own. He survived a shootout with the police, killing the vice-chief of the French Police and wounding another policeman. He was tracked down to a house in the Paris suburb of Choisy-le-Roi were he held off 500 armed men from the police, army, fire department, etc. During the siege he was finally nearly shot to pieces and eventually dynamited into submission. All of this is depicted in the movie. However, the movie throws in a connection of Jules Bonnot with the Russian princess and the scandal of the prewar Russian Loan bubble.

The plot gets complicated in this period thriller. You've got police rivalry, corrupt civil servants, anarchists and the Russian princess who's staging Ivan the Terrible at the Paris Opera! The action-packed finale takes place at the opera with death and destruction for a number of cast members. Now, even my niece who is fluent in French had trouble following all the plot twists and characters. However, I enjoyed it thoroughly! I was able to find a bare-bones DVD release at to review. I liked this movie so much, that after watching it once, I ordered the deluxe 2 DVD set at Guess I want those 2½ hours of extra features!

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: Tom Jones, David Homsher, Susan Neeson, Fred Castier, Tony Langley, August Blume, Sidney Clark, Christina Holstein, Tony Noyes, Andy Melomet, Kimball Worcester, and Len Shurtleff. The World War I Document Archive helped with both our Literary and 90th Anniversary features. The William Seegers article was found at Wikipedia. Until next month, your editor, Mike Hanlon.
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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