Great War Calendar 2022

Great War Calendar 2022. $18. Order here.

Published in: on November 15, 2021 at 2:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Scrapbook of an American Army Nurse in WWI: Part Three

american nurse

Part I of this series provided us with some personal background of Nurse Edith MacDonald, as well as a basic history of Base Hospital 115 in Vichy, France, where she was assigned.   Part II introduced us to several of Miss MacDonald‘s patients and fellow nurses.  Now, in Part III, we step back for a wider perspective, with photographs of several officers of BH 115 and a few scenes of its internal operations. 

~~~(click on photographs to enlarge them)

Regarding Chief Nurse Mary Sheehan of B.H. 115, (4th photo below) Nancy Porter of the Tully Area Historical Society (Tully, NY), offers the following information: 

Mary Sheehan, the chief nurse of BH 115, & her family moved to Tully, NY as a teen. As a nurse myself, I take great pride in her accomplishments & admire the courage it must have taken to lead & direct the nurses of her hospital in wartime. In 1923, she was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal by Gen. Douglas McArthur saying that ‘by her tact, good judgement, energy and personal devotions to duty [she] contributed largely to the successful care and well-being of eleven thousand sick and wounded.‘ After her death in 1936 at Walter Reed Hospital, she was brought home to us & laid to rest next to her family.” 


The nurses of Base Hospital 115, in New York City, July 15, 1918,
the day before sailing for France


The Ruhl Hotel in Vichy, France– home of Base Hospital 115


Lt. Alexander, Capt Huver, Lt. Sullivan, Lt. Bailey
Capt. Perring, Capt. Landon, Lt. Stewart


Chief Nurses Miss Sheehan (B.H. 115), Miss Heel (B.H. 19), Miss Bambre (B.H. 19)


Captain Cameron Currie & Mrs. Belmont Tiffany


Fracture Ward, Base Hospital 115, 1918
Eye Clinic, Base Hospital 115
Mess Hall, Base Hospital 115, 1918


Published in: on April 16, 2021 at 5:52 pm  Comments (1)  

John Allan Wyeth and the British War Poets: A Preliminary Comparison

2d Lt John Allan Wyeth

The most memorable poems of the First World War were, among other things, testaments to the catastrophic effects of war on the individual psyche. For all the shocking explicitness of their naturalism, they remained deeply subjective. In that sense, they were the literary correlatives of German Expressionist paintings: expressions of personal horror with a public purpose: to serve up slices of rank Flanders mud on the dinnerplates of the complacent bourgeoisie at home, between the carrots and choice cuts of beef. Such paintings and poems, nurtured by a suppressed festering rage, shook the homefront to the core.

So all-consuming was the day-to-day scrabble to survive in the bestial setting of the trenches that a broader, more objective perspective was out of the question. Unlike the greatest novels of the war, which did not appear until a decade after the fighting, the greatest war poems—by Sassoon, Owen, Rosenberg and Gurney, to name the most obvious—were written during the war itself. That they were written at all under such conditions, let alone with such originality and artistry by poets still in their youth, is little short of a miracle.

The Great War has been described as the burial ground of whatever vestiges remained of Romanticism, and the major poets of that war have been rightly credited with purging the language of its last romantic trappings. Yet, from the long vantage of a century, the poets themselves increasingly appear as Romantic figures in their own right: as individuals of obdurate defiance, refusing obliteration, emerging against all probability from the vast, inchoate backdrop of modern warfare. Whatever their services to the language of Modernism, the more permanent value of such poets lies in their irreducible individuality in the face of impersonal, all-consuming war—in their embodiment of the inextinguishable human spirit.

This paradigm, however, will not aid us toward an appreciation of John Allan Wyeth. Whatever anger or anguish his poems contain is so subdued as to be invisible, while his personality is constrained to the point of sublimation. He is in no sense a Romantic figure of defiance, or singular voice of anguish. What we find in Wyeth is an acute observer with the trained eye and ear of a intelligence officer who is also steeped in the arts and humanities. He is able to maintain a cooler, more objective perspective precisely because he is not in the thick of the fighting, and is never in the trenches. We do not go to Wyeth for memorable expressions of bitterness in the face of annihilation, but for perspective and precise detail, for subtlety and nuance. Such qualities, combined with a sophisticated mastery of form and technique, place Wyeth in a category all his own. They also go a long way toward explaining the eight decades of Wyeth’s neglect. Compared especially to Owen and Sassoon’s poetry of compressed outrage, Wyeth’s sonnets, for all their technical virtuosity, draw little attention to themselves. Even in their frank descriptions of destruction and death, they are coolly accurate and detached. There is irony, to be sure, and a good bit of humor in the overheard exchanges between enlisted men, but Wyeth’s sonnets, even at their bleakest, never grab the reader by the throat. 

By the time of Wyeth’s appearance in 1928, the canon of war poetry was more or less fixed. It was profoundly tragic and profoundly moving, the bitter fruit of four interminable years in the trenches. By comparison, the poetry of Johnny-come-lately Americans, who had seen six months of fighting at most, with none of it in the trenches, was vapid. This view of the difference between British and American war poets was all but unshakeable, because it was very largely the truth. No newly-discovered book of war poems by an American, especially one written ten years after the war, was going to change it. Wyeth’s sonnets never got the attention they deserved because their timing was all wrong. The British poets had seen a longer, grimier and more horrific war than any of their American peers, and by 1928 they had effectively said all there was to say on the subject. By 1928, no one was listening.

It was different for the novelists, because novels take longer to germinate and mature, and the greatest novels of the war all came out at about this time. No one expected great novels during the war. They may not have expected great poetry either, but from Sassoon and Owen they got it all the same. The biographies of both poets enhanced the effect. Owen’s courage under fire, for which he would posthumously be awarded the Military Cross, and his death in action just days before the Armistice— Sassoon’s single-handed raid against an occupied trench, his very public condemnation of the war effort, and his subsequent confinement in a psychiatric hospital (where he and Owen first met), lifted both poets into legend. The poets who came after them could not hope to measure up. The poems of Sassoon and Owen redefined war literature so fundamentally that no work to follow could escape comparison. The very criteria for evaluating war literature had been reset, and by such criteria Wyeth’s poems merited only scant notice—which is exactly what they received.

The first important critic to take notice of Wyeth, Dana Gioia, concentrated on the modernist aspects of Wyeth’s technique. Whether Wyeth proves significant in the history of modernist poetics is yet to be determined, but none of the established war poets has any prominence as a modernist. The first generation of modernist poets were all older, and all on the homefront during the war. The war poets themselves were consumed by the war just as they were coming of age. None of them had the leisure to pursue the major aesthetic questions of the day, and those who survived the war evinced little interest in the abstract issues of modernism which had so preoccupied the previous generation of Eliot, Pound and Yeats, or the up-and-coming generation of Auden and his circle. The British war poets—who were all essentially Georgians—were concerned with simpler, more basic verities, and their poetry was therefore more conservative and traditional. They had aged beyond their years, or been broken entirely. They were concerned with recovery and restoration, with salvaging what they could of the world as it had been before the cataclysm. Having endured battles of flesh and blood at inconceivable cost, they left the abstract battles of aesthetics to others.

Wyeth, as an American, came late to the war, and—shielded by his position on the general staff—escaped the sort of damage suffered by so many of his British compatriots. Yet he was far from a mere desk jockey. As a courier delivering intelligence to front-line units, he came close enough to endure aerial bombardment and shellfire, and to have his eyes singed by gas. On one occasion, within range of machine gun and artillery fire, he led a group of casualties to a field station across broken country in the darkness. As division interpreter, intelligence officer and courier, Wyeth saw his share of the war at first hand, as well as behind the scenes, and comprehended it more acutely than most.

Wyeth was an astute witness. His descriptions of everything from the sound of gas shells hurtling overhead, to the reckless banter of enlisted men playing craps, to the drifting perfume of dead men in a ruined village, are as sparkling and precise as any in the literature of war, and are evidence of the profound impression such particulars made upon him. 

Rats squeak and scrabble brusquely everywhere.
The night is almost blind . . . Something dispels
my stupor, wakes me with a squeamish thrill
to find my raincoat pocket eaten through.


My body swept throughout with a shattering spell
of fear—the fear that makes your heart like lead,
your gullet sicken and the bowels creep
and slide like live things in your abdomen.

Around the burnt plane, raking souvenirs,
a crowd, all raucous shouts and breathless smiles—
“Hey quit your shoving there.”

                                               —“I’ll say she did.” 

                                                                            —“It’s his first Heinie.”

—“Jesus Christ that’s hot!”

                                    —“I seen the bastard, sure—he’s under guard—
sixteen—he’s nothing but a goddam kid!”


Guns blaze and slam. The stars burn fever bright.

A low white ridge ahead, and the crumpled sound

of shelling.

                   “Jerry’s out—”

                                                A snarling croon
wheels over us—quick glittering tracers fly
down a pale searchlight, and along the ground
bombs blast into smoky yellow shot with light.


The Archies break out in a brute uproar.
We wait at the cellar stairs to judge the raid.
Frantic machine guns stutter, brusque shells blaze
in the light-swept clouds where, ominously near,
a beast wheels in the apocalyptic sky
and plunges through a stack of blinding rays.


Too dark and late for any bugle call . . .
a wakeful horse along the picket line
stamps obstinately in the squashy loam.

Sleep ripped apart in the shrilling blast of a shell
jerking me back into life—Dawn, and a dead
bleak silence split by a shrieking smash—one then,
every minute! Men run along the corridor—

Like the narrator in Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, which appeared a year after This Man’s Army, Wyeth has no faith in abstractions or generalities. He offers no felicitous homilies, no proverbial observations, and no conclusions. Whatever his truths, they are never trotted out on stage; they are kept implicit in the meticulous detail of his descriptions.

— Reprinted from Before the Clangor of the Gun: The First World War Poetry of John Allan Wyeth (Monongahela Books, 2019), by BJ Omanson.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Maurice Genevoix enshrined in the Pantheon

World War I writer Maurice Genevoix was enshrined in the Pantheon on November 11, the 102nd anniversary of the Armistice. The ceremony was led by President Emmanuel Macron.

Born on 29 November 1890 at Decize, Nièvre as Maurice-Charles-Louis-Genevoix, Genevoix spent his childhood in Châteauneuf-sur-Loire. After attending the local school, he studied at the lycée of Orléans and the Lycée Lakanal. Genevoix was accepted to the Ecole Normale Supérieure, being first in his class, but was soon mobilized into World War I in 1914. He was quickly promoted to a lieutenant. He participated in the bloody battles of the Les Éparges hill as well as along the road of Tranchée de Calonne to the south east of Verdun-sur-Meuse in late 1914 and early 1915. On the 25 April 1915 he was severely wounded in action in his left arm and side in the Tranchée de Calonne sector and returned to Paris. The battle in the Meuse in which he participated, especially those at Les Éparges left a profound influence on him, and he wrote the tetralogy Ceux de 14 (The Men of 1914), which brought him recognition among the public.” ~~~Wikipedia

An English translation of Genevoix’s memoir, entitled ‘Neath Verdun, is available from Leonaur publishers.

Published in: on November 11, 2020 at 10:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

Why Belleau Wood still matters

by Madeleine Johnson

On Nov. 11, 2018, President Donald Trump was scheduled to observe the centenary of World War I’s armistice in the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial, where the dead of the Battle of Belleau Wood are buried. At the time, I and a dozen other descendants of men who had fought at Belleau Wood were also in France. We were touring Belleau Wood and other battlefields where our ancestors had fought with the American Expeditionary Forces’ 2nd Infantry Division in World War I.

          Over five days we braved mud, downpours and woodland underbrush to follow our grandfathers’ and great-uncles’ footsteps in combat and to honor their companions’ graves.

          So we were stunned when we heard that Trump had cancelled his visit to the Belleau Wood cemetery because of “bad weather.” There was only a light mist and drizzle. We stood under it for several hours while observing the armistice at another monument.

          The combat veterans in our group snorted. They had seen combat-trained pilots like the one flying Trump’s helicopter land in much worse — and under enemy fire — in Vietnam and Iraq.

          Perplexed, we shook our heads in disbelief and filed the episode among other curiosities of the Trump presidency.

          But now the story is back and now we are more perplexed — less about Trump than about the silence of top Marines who served in the Trump administration: John Kelly, James Mattis and Joseph E. Dunford. To understand our perplexity, a bit of history can illuminate why a battle that was tiny by World War I standards was consequential for the Marines, for the U.S., and for me.

          Numerous authors have written about Belleau Wood. Kevin Seldon has dedicated his life to a minute-by-minute account of the battle (now at volume two): The Ranks of the Carrion Men: The Epic Story of the Thirty-Six-Day Fight in and Around Belleau Wood. Until his death in 2016, George Clark, of Pike, N.H., was the world authority on the World War I Marines and his account is definitive: Devil Dogs: Fighting Marines of World War I.  Laurence Stallings’ The Doughboys is a lively and authoritative account of the AEF in World War I.

‘Only’ 9,777 dead

          The wood is a patch of forest the size of Central Park an hour and a half from Paris. The battle for it lasted “only” 36 days; the Battle for Verdun stretched over nine months. There were “only” 9,777 dead and wounded; 57,000 died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

          The U.S. entered the war in April 1917. By January 1918, Germany knew it had little time to knock France and Britain out before America really geared up for the fight. In March 1918 Germany “rolled the dice” and launched a series of offensives that punched through French and British lines. By May, German troops were at Chateau-Thierry, barely 45 miles from Paris.

          In May 1918, the 2nd Division, a unique hybrid of both Marine and regular U.S. Army units, was feeling cocky. They were retraining after their baptism of fire in a few trench raids — Boy Scout stuff — during a month of service near Verdun. On May 31 they were engaged in Memorial Day ball games and religious services when a panicked French messenger burst in. The Germans had reached Chateau Thierry!  The French were in retreat!  

          The 2nd Division scrambled. After an overnight ride on springless trucks over refugee-packed roads, the 2nd Division stopped outside Chateau-Thierry near the town of Belleau.

          The Marines dug in, threw up a line of machine guns and waited for the Germans. On June 2, they arrived. On June 3 the fight began in earnest.

          My great-uncle, Capt. Lothar R. Long, a machine-gun offcer in the Marines wrote: “They came over the top of the ridge and down into the valley and town in a regular stream, — a long, thick line of slow moving gray, right through bursting 75 shell, and into a belt of machine gun fire — about 72200000000000000 of ’em, I should say. … The marines never budged an inch.”

          Repulsed, the Germans fell back and holed up in Belleau Wood. Their leader, who was a veteran of bush wars in Africa, used the wood’s rocky outcroppings and ravines to create mini-fortresses and machine-gun nests.

          On June 6, the Marines struck back. Benjamin S. Berry, the ancestor of a family on our French tour, led Marines across the open, poppy-studded wheat field in front of the wood. With measured step and bayonets glistening in the June sun, they were mowed down by German machine gun fire. More Marines died on June 6 than in the Corps’ entire history before that day.

          After that, Marine and Army regiments spent the next month in a series of operations to root the Germans from the woods. We think of World War I battles as impersonal industrial slaughter. But Belleau Wood was up close and personal — hand-to-hand combat — as dozens of survivors’ diaries, letters and oral histories revealed. One veteran compared it to deadly hide-and-seek. Others described companions taking out machine-gun nests by creeping up and pushing the guns’ muzzles away with their bare hands. Attempts to clear the wood with artillery only fouled the terrain with boughs and twisted trunks. Corpses rotted without burial for weeks.

          In a Marine Corps oral history, future Gen. Gerald Thomas, the grandfather of another member of our French group, said he did not eat for five days. A culvert was a first-aid station, a wine cellar an operating room. Poison gas sank and lingered in ravines. Shell-shock turned men into laughing maniacs and made a civilian’s lost dog chase its tail.

          French and British leaders learned troops could handle frontline trenches for only three or four days. Marines were only rotated out of “Hellwood” after two weeks. My own great-uncle was in Belleau Wood for 35 days.

Founding myth of the Corps

          American journalists were forbidden to name individual units, but a story naming the Marines by a Chicago newspaperman who was embedded with Benjamin Berry slipped by the censors. At battle’s end, American headlines screamed “Marines Win Hot Battle, Sweep Enemy From Height Near Thierry” and “Americans Dash Into Prussian Baby Butchers and Do Beautiful Work With Bayonets and Bombs.” The French “went nutty” over the Marines, my great-uncle wrote. They re-named Belleau Wood for them and gave them the honor of wearing the fourragère — a braided cord on their epaulets.

          The Germans were stunned. Captured Germans interrogated in an intelligence report my great-uncle saved said the 2nd Division shot anything that moved; they were animals. British historians call Belleau Wood a mere “psychological victory.” But it renewed the French will to fight. The Germans knew it heralded the end. After Belleau Wood, they were on the back foot.

          Belleau Wood became the founding myth of the modern Marine Corps, up there with Iwo Jima and Khe Sanh. It gave them stirring words: “C’mon, you sons of bitches, you want to live forever?” and “Retreat? Hell, we just got here!”

          Belleau Wood was a dark initiation rite. The Marines went in as boys and came out men.

          Likewise, the battle matured the Corps, transforming it from a small expeditionary force into an internationally recognized fighting machine. Marines still make pilgrimages to Belleau to drink from the fountain used to fill canteens in 1918. John Kelly and Joseph Dunford drank there in 2018. Marines of the 5th and 6th regiments, which fought at Belleau Wood, still wear the fourragére. Dunford has worn it twice.

          The attention the Corps got in 1918 soured Army leaders, who kept the Marines off European soil in World War II. Prescient Belleau Wood veterans understood the importance of the Pacific in the 1930s and used their experience against the German army in 1918 at Guadalcanal and Peleliu. Belleau Wood veterans commanded the Corps into the 1960s.

The battle’s long shadow

          Belleau Wood’s influence goes beyond the Marines. Belleau Wood set the bar for the entire American Expeditionary Forces in World War I. The AEF later earned President Woodrow Wilson the power to dictate the peace. They crowned the U.S. as a global leader. Saving Europe from the Germans created a pattern and sense of obligation alive today (and colored Americans’ view of the French military). World War I Marines became models for American men. F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway were openly jealous of the writers who were Belleau Wood veterans, John W. Thomason, Thomas Boyd and Laurence Stallings.

          Forgotten now, Thomason’s book of poignant ink and written sketches, Fix Bayonets!, Boyd’s autobiographical novel Through the Wheat and Stallings’ Broadway and Hollywood hits What Price Glory? and The Big Parade were larger commercial successes than anything Fitzgerald or Hemingway had produced. Nevertheless, a visit to Belleau Wood was a key scene in Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night and the protagonist of Hemingway’s story Soldier’s Home “had been at Belleau Wood.”

          And for descendants of men who fought at Belleau Wood?

          My tour group included third-generation Marines, inspired by their grandfathers’ service. In contrast, one friend’s father never shook the malign influence of a Belleau Wood veteran who railroaded him into the Marines and Vietnam.

          My great-uncle stayed in the Marines, which ordered him back to France in 1919 to make a map of Belleau Wood. He had told his brother that the memory of Germans coming over the hill would torment him forever; he couldn’t face seeing Belleau Wood for at least 20 years. Back on the battlefield of 1918, my great-uncle shot and killed himself.

          A hundred years later, Belleau Wood casts a shadow over our lives. It must certainly do the same for Kelly, Mattis and Dunford. How can they be silent? I hope it is because they feel as I do: that Trump’s alleged comments (“losers,” “suckers”) are so petty in comparison to the sacrifices of Belleau Wood they are hardly worth response.

          Or, maybe, like me, Kelly, Mattis and Dunford are perversely grateful for a fracas that has brought attention to a stirring American moment.

drawing by John W. Thomason

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Madeleine Johnson, of Enfield, New Hampshire, is a freelance journalist who has studied the Marines in World War I for many years. In 2018, she delivered a paper at the Marine Corps History Division’s World War I Centennial Symposium titled “The Art of War: Laurence Stallings, John W. Thomason, Thomas Boyd.”

~~~~~ This essay was first published in the Valley News of West Lebanon, New Hampshire.

A new book on the American WWI poet, John Allan Wyeth


BeforetheClangoroftheGunless_cover The first full-length study of the recently rediscovered American poet of the First World War: John Allan Wyeth. Contains a wealth of new biographical information, plus several extensive essays on Wyeth’s technique and his relationship to the major British war poets.


John Allan Wyeth: Lost Poet of the Lost Generation

Artistry & Authenticity in the War Sonnets of John Allan Wyeth

A Yank at the Battle of Amiens: The Chipilly Ridge Sonnets of John Allan Wyeth

Wyeth on Horseback

John Allan Wyeth and the British War Poets: A Preliminary Comparison

Poet, Painter, Spy: Did John Allan Wyeth report on Nazi Activities for British Intelligence during the 1930s ?


~~Notes on the Friendship of John Allan Wyeth and Edmund Wilson

~~Notes on Wyeth’s Years in Rapallo

~~The Rediscovery of a Forgotten War Poet: A Personal Account

Published in: on February 13, 2019 at 3:01 am  Leave a Comment  

Armistice, 11/11/18








Published in: on November 7, 2018 at 5:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

An inherited legacy of military service

31961410_10155612788843233_2659213290328031232_nAmerica has always been haunted by its wars—by a sense that the accumulated dead of all its past wars stand in moral judgement of our current state of affairs, as in the 1919 French film J’Accuse where the war dead literally rise from their graves and march on the towns and villages of France to stand in silent accusation of their friends and family who have betrayed their memory.

The dead of previous wars set an all-but-unattainable ideal of sacrifice for the living—an ideal most keenly felt by the young, who were possessed of a burning imperative to prove themselves, to measure their mettle against the hallowed example of their forefathers. In many cases this imperative was instilled and nurtured from childhood. Innumerable American doughboys of 1917-18 grew up sitting at their grandfathers’ feet, listening to tales of Shilo and Gettysburg—just as their grandfathers, as children, had listened to tales of Tippicanoe or New Orleans from their own grandfathers before them.  One can well imagine the shocking reality that awaited such soldiers on the Western Front, whose grand-fathers’ war stories could not have prepared them for long-range heavy artillery, chlorine gas, machine guns or aeroplanes, to mention only the most obvious aspects of the new warfare.1776_sm

Yet other aspects of 1914-18 were little changed from previous wars, and this was particularly true for Appenheimer and the many thousands of other soldiers from all nations who served in the supply units. Appenheimer’s primary duties of hauling rations and ammunition into the front lines by wagon and mule-team were essentially the same as they had always been. To be sure, the addition of heavy artillery, machine guns and strafing aircraft made hauling ammunition by wagon more perilous than in earlier wars—sufficiently perilous that he, and many other teamsters, were decorated for valor under fire. But the basic equipment—wagon, harness and mules—was more or less unchanged from the days of the Revolutionary War.


Going to war for Americans had never been much removed from ordinary daily life, particularly on the frontier, where farming, hunting and fighting were all in a day’s work.  The farmer leaving his cabin to toil in his cornfield took his musket along with his hoe as a matter of course.  Similarly, for Alpheus Appenheimer—an ordinary farmer from Illinois—sailing off to a world war in Europe was not as exotic as he might have imagined. In the end he was still just doing what he had always done, and what his father and grandfathers before him had always done: harnessing a team of mules to a wagon and driving them down a country road.

And as for soldiers, so too for the women, who were as haunted by war as the men. Alpheus’ mother, Olive Witcher Appenheimer—who  as a small girl had grown up listening to the war stories of two older brothers and two brothers-in-law, all of whom served in the Union Army—sent her own two sons off in 1918 to fight in France. For such American mothers—who must have numbered in the tens of thousands, at least—the emotions of past and present wars would have been inextricably mingled.  Waiting by a window for a man or boy to return from war was very little changed in 1918 from what it had been in 1865, or in 1781.


Not that women in wartime had nothing better to do than to wait by windows. If a woman in 1917 were free of other obligations, she could serve in France in a number of capacities, whether in one of the armed services, or as a wartime nurse near the front. But rural women rarely possessed such freedom. Keeping a farm afloat in wartime, when the farmer himself was overseas, and especially if children were to be looked after, was about as much as any woman could manage.  Yet farm women across America found ways to assist the war effort in addition to their full-time responsibilities. Olive Appenheimer served as head of the local chapter of Women’s Relief Corps (a woman’s auxiliary of the Grand Army of the Republic) during the war, and her daughter-in-law, America, volunteered for the Red Cross.

Both Alpheus and America were descended from a long line of men and women who had fought in and lived through three centuries of America’s wars, from the 1630s 0s onward. Much of this warfare took place on America’s frontiers, and both Alpheus and America had personal ties to such frontiers themselves.  America was born in 1897 in a one-room log cabin near Wolf Creek, Kentucky, on land her family had homesteaded in the 1780s, not long after it was first opened up by Daniel Boone. As for Alpheus, he was born—as he liked to tell his grandchildren—in a woodchuck hole: a one-room sod dugout on the Kansas frontier in 1891.

To understand their individual responses to the declaration of war in 1917, it is necessary to know something of the legacy of war which each of them inherited. The possession of such a legacy was not unusual in 1917. Thousands of American boys sailing off to war in 1917-18 had fathers, grandfathers, great-grandfathers, and more distant ancestors who had fought in earlier American wars. Evidence of their bracing example on the young soldiers can often be found in their letters home, where a grandfather’s participation in a Civil War battle is often alluded to. The legacy of their forefathers established a mark to be lived up to (as well as not to fall below): it was, perhaps, a chief reason the green American soldiers tended to give such a good account of themselves when first coming under German fire in France.

11, 11, 11.


Published in: on October 23, 2017 at 3:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

One of the first to die at Passchendaele


ledwidge2Among the first to die at Passchendaele, a hundred years ago today, was the Irish poet, Francis LEDWIDGE, born in Slane, County Meath, on 19 August 1887.   He was educated at Slane Board School, and was befriended by Lord Dunsany, who introduced him to other Irish literati. Ledwidge was a laborer, working on roads and in a copper mine.  He was, accordingly, a unionist, and one of the founding members of the Slane branch of the Meath Labour Union.

During the war, Ledwidge served with 5th Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in the Dardanelles in August 1915, during which time his battalion lost half its men in nine days fighting.  He served in Salonika in late 1915.

In December of that year, while in a six-day forced retreat under severe attacks from the Bulgarians, Ledwidge lost all his manuscripts save a few rain-soaked remnants.  If that were not enough, he suffered a severe inflamation in his back which caused his collapse and four months hospitalization in Cairo.  He was then sent to hospital in Manchester in April 1916, where news of the Easter Rising, and the death of his friend and fellow poet Thomas MacDonagh reached him, and upset him deeply.


Ledgwidge was court-martialled and stripped of his rank in May for overstaying his leave and insubordination.  He spent next seven months in Ebrington Barracks, Derry.

In December 1916, he rejoined his Battalion in the village of Picquigny, north of Amiens. In early 1917, Ledwidge was drafted to “B” Company, 1st Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, part of the 29th Division, and sent first to Carnoy, then to a camp in Le Neuville, near Corbie. While there he began a correspondence with the Irish poetess, Katherine Tynan. The Battalion was in billets at Le Neuville in early March, 1917. In early April the 1st Battalion arrived in Arras; it moved to Proven in the Ypres area on 27 June, and served intermittantly in trenches for the next seven months. Ledwidge was killed on 31 July on the opening day of the third Battle of Ypres by an exploding shell.


A keen-edged sword, a soldier’s heart
Is greater than a poet’s art.
And greater than a poet’s fame
A little grave that has no name.


~~~ THE COMPLETE POEMS OF FRANCIS LEDWIDGE. With Introductions by Lord Dunsany.  (London: Herbert Jenkins, 1919) .  (First American Edition by Brentano’s of NY, 1919). 
~~~ Alice Curtayne, FRANCIS LEDWIDGE: A LIFE OF THE POET (1887-1917).  (London: Martin Brian & O’Keeffe, 1972).


Published in: on July 31, 2017 at 10:43 am  Comments (1)