Poets Killed on the First Day of the Somme, July 1, 1916

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2nd Lt. Henry FIELD.  Served with the 6th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiement. He was killed on the first day Somme during the bitter fighting for Serre, one of 836 casualties from his battalion. He was 22. Buried at Serre Road Cemetery No.2, Beaumont Hamel & Hebuterne.

Above the shot-blown trench he stands,
Tall and thin against the sky;
His thin white face, and thin white hands,
Are the signs his people know him by.
His soldier’s coat is silver barred
And on his head the well-known crest.
Above th shot-blown trench he stands,
The bright escutcheon on his breast,
And traced in silver bone for bone
The likeness of a skeleton.

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HodgsonLieutenant William Noel HODGSON, 9th Battalion, the Devonshire Regiment. Hodgson was awarded the Military Cross. In April 1916 the Battalion was in front line trenches opposite Mametz. On the opening day of the Battle of the Somme, Hodgson was killed by a bullet in the throat from German machine gun fire while taking a supply of bombs to his men in newly captured trenches near Mametz. Buried at Devonshire Cemetery, Mansel Copse, Mametz.

I, that on my familiar hill
Saw with uncomprehending eyes
A hundred of Thy sunsets spill
Their fresh and sanguine sacrifice,
Ere the sun swings his noonday sword
Must say good-bye to all of this; ~
By all delights that I shall miss,
Help me to die, O Lord.

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Lt. Alfred RATCLIFFE. Served with the 10th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment, is killed on the Somme, while attacking the German-held village of Fricourt. His battalion suffered more casualties than any other battalion on this date: 60%. Lt Ratcliffe was 29. Buried at Fricourt New Military Cemetery.

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Corporal Alexander ROBERTSON . Served with ‘A’ Company, 12th Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment (Sheffield City Battalion: ‘The Sheffield Pals’). Was in same attack on Serre as Will Streets. ‘A’ & ‘C’ Companies were the first to move forward on the morning of the first day of the Somme. Met with heavy shelling, rifle & machine-gun fire. His body never found. He was 34. His name recorded on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing, near Albert.

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StreetsSergeant John William STREETS . Served in the 12th. York & Lancaster Regiment. Known as “The Miner Poet”. Killed on the first day of the Somme, during the fighting for Serre. He was wounded early in the day and was returning to a dressing station when he heard that another soldier of his platoon was too badly wounded to return on his own, so Streets went back to find him. He was never seen again. He was 31. Buried Euston Road Cemetery, Colincamps.

Back to their Mother Earth this night return
Unnumbered youth along the far-flung line;
But ’tis for these my eyes with feeling burn,
That Memory doth erect a fadeless shrine ~
For these I’ve known, admired, ardently friended
Stood by when Death their love, their youth swift ended.

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Waterhouse2nd Lt. Glbert WATERHOUSE.  Served with the 2nd Battalion, Essex Regiment, which partook in the bitter hand-to-hand fighting south of the village of Serre. At the end of the day, Waterhouse was counted among the missing, presumed dead. Buried at Serre Road Cemetery No.2, Beaumont Hamel & Hebuterne.

… But the minnewerfers fell,
And the blackbird ceased his song,
And the place became a hell,
Rang with curses loud and long ~
Blackbird, chaffinch, bumble-bee
Fled away upon the wing ~
Where they sang so merrily
Other messengers now sing ~
Bumble bee is busy still,
Blackbird and the chaffinch sing
In another faery dell,
By the village on the hill;
But a devil out of hell
Tossing high explosive shell,
Gambols in the flowery dell
Where the minnewerfers fell.

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Lt. Bernard WHITE.   Served with the 20th (1st Tynside Scottish) Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers, is killed on the first day of Somme, opposite the village of La Boisselle. The 20th lost its commanding officer, 16 other officers, and 320 enlisted. One of White’s brother officers later described his death: “His platoon was the first to leave the trenches, and he himself was responsible for the direction of the attack. He led his men right across ‘No Man’s Land’ ~ here eight hundred yards broad ~ and was last seen standing on the parapet of the German trenches throwing bombs. He then disappeared, and for a short time was missing. Then his body was found and buried, with one or two other officers, who fell beside him … His death has left a very empty place in my life, for he was an exceptional man in many ways, so brilliant and full of life…”   He was 29. His name is on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing, near Albert.

 

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Published in: on July 1, 2016 at 12:50 am  Comments (1)  

Final days of a young Marine wounded at Belleau Wood

The courtyard at the College de Juilly which housed Evacuation Hospital No. 8. This is the scene Pvt Hummelshiem looked down upon from his hospital bed.

The courtyard at the College de Juilly which housed Evacuation Hospital No. 8.  This is the scene Pvt Hummelshiem looked down upon from his hospital bed.

Pvt Herbert W. Hummelshiem, 15th Company, 6th Machine Gun Battalion. Died of wounds 18 June 1918. The following account of Pvt Hummelshiem’s last days in Evacuation Hospital No. 8 in the old College de Juilly is taken from Frederick Pottle’s Stretchers: The Story of a Hospital Unit on the Western Front (New Have, Yale University Press, 1929):

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I FIRST saw Herbie a week after I started work in the operating room at the old Collège de Juilly, during the last of the Belleau Woods fighting. I was new enough to it then so that I saw him as a human being rather than a case: a big, well-built lad of nineteen, but pale and thin, with very clear blue eyes and closely cropped blond hair.

He was wounded in the knee, a serious wound, but not so pressing as some of the other cases. He lay nearly all day on a shaky old French litter on the tiled floor outside the operating room, waiting his turn. Once I found him shivering and tucked the blankets in around him. It was about four in the afternoon when he was finally brought in.

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I took down the record for the operation. The boy’s last name was German; his first name, Herbert. He was, as I have said, only nineteen. A marine. He had been wounded sixteen hours previously. His voice was high pitched and rather unsteady; he was clearly frightened by the operating room. That was hardly to be wondered at. Operations were under way on the tables at either side, and the room ran with blood and reeked with ether. My white gown (at Juilly even surgical assistants had luxuries) was covered with blood stains. In that gown, with a piece of bandage tied around my forehead to keep the sweat out of my eyes, I must have been a terrifying spectacle. Yet he would have died rather than admit that he was afraid. I saw the dumb appeal in his eyes as I helped lift him on the table, and slid my hand into his. He looked up at me gratefully. The nurse started to put the ether mask down over his face. His voice shook a little.

“You’ll hold my hand and see me through, won’t you?” he asked. That was how my friendship with Herbie began.

The operation proved to be long and difficult. The missile was a jagged piece of shell nearly a centimeter each way, which had penetrated the joint cavity. Once the major threw it out, but it slipped back again. But he found it again, and dressed the wound. I took the dictation. I do not know why I should remember that dictation, but I do, as well as though I had written it yesterday.

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“June 16, 1918. Herbert H—–, 15th Company, 6th Machine Gun Battalion, U.S.M.C. Duration of injury, 16 hrs. G.S.W. right knee joint. Missile entered from popliteal space, traversing between outer hamstring tendon and the notch of the condyles, lodging in the joint cavity. External arthrotomy. Piece of shrapnel 1 x 1/2 x 3/4 cm. removed from the joint cavity. Débridement. Joint irrigated with Dakin solution and left open for drainage. 9 Carrel-Dakin tubes in posterior wound. Hold. Major Shipley.”

I helped to carry the boy, limp and hardly breathing, to the ward, and put him in bed. Ward B was the best in the hospital. It was a long bare room with whitewashed plaster walls, and a floor of red tiles, with long windows, overlooking the old stone-flagged central courtyard of the Collège. I had to pass through it on my way to the operating room, and I always used to stop to speak to Herbie when I could.

He could not sit up, but had always to lie flat on his back with his leg in a long aluminum splint. When our work slackened toward the end of June, I used to sit by his bed and talk with him. Sometimes I wrote letters to his dictation: letters to his mother, his aunt, his sweetheart—“The little lady,” he called her. In those letters he repeated over and over that he was getting along well, was feeling better, and would soon be out of bed.

It was not true, for his case went badly from the first. The joint was badly infected, and kept getting worse: a slow, obstinate infection which sapped his strength. He had apparently been on the verge of a physical breakdown at the time he was wounded, and could seem to rally no strength to throw off the infection.

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In our talks I learned a great deal about his history. His father was a successful business man in a mid-western city. There was only one other child, a brother. His people were of German descent; his grandmother spoke no English. His parents had not tried to dissuade him from joining the marines. He had been personal orderly to an officer, a major, and at the front had served as a runner, carrying messages for him. He had gone through two weeks of the horror of Belleau Woods, seldom getting anything to eat, and keyed up to a dreadful nervous pitch, for he must have been by nature timid. He had had none of his clothes off for the sixteen days before he was hit. On that morning, he, his major, and three other men were crouching in a shell hole. A shell landed on top. of them. The major and two of the men were killed outright, and the other man died very shortly afterward. Herbie said that he had not been killed because he had been praying just before the shell struck.

The days went by, and Herbie got no better. Twice he had to undergo reoperation because of the infection. I was off duty both times, but because it seemed to steady him, I came back to help. He feared an amputation both times; dreaded it literally worse than death.

After the third operation his cot was moved to the windowside so that he could see the men hurrying around in the courtyard below carrying the wounded on litters, or loading the convalescent into ambulances for evacuation. On one of the old towers opposite was an ancient clock. He used to watch the slow progress of its hands all day long. I remember that one day an elm branch swung in between, and I found him almost in tears because nobody would heed his request to move his cot a few inches. A boy of nineteen, thousands of miles away from home, terribly alone, and facing the probability of death, what did he think, as he lay there for weary hours and days, watching the lacy boughs of the elms spatter the flags of the courtyard with arabesques of light, which shifted and faded as the hands of the clock crawled around?

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In Juilly was one little fruiterie, where, for exorbitant prices, one could occasionally buy fresh fruit. One day I got a pound of big cherries for him. When I poured the beautiful red things out on his blanket, he looked up startled, struggled manfully for a moment to keep down his emotion, and then his eyes ran over with tears. He said nothing to me, but I felt sick with shame as I realized how casual the gift had really been.

On the fifteenth of July the Germans attacked furiously, and three days later we launched the counterattack which kept them retreating to the end of the War. Several surgical teams were detached from our hospital, and I was sent along. I was gone three days. I came back half dead, and found our hospital crowded with wounded. It was three days more before I could go to Herbie.

I stumbled down the ward, and brought up with a start of surprise. Herbie’s bed was empty. At first I was disappointed, and then glad, for it came to me that he must have improved sufficiently to be sent back to the base. On the way out I stopped to speak with the ward nurse, Miss O’Toole, a tall, thin, gray-haired Bostonian, who had gone from a holiday at Nice to four years’ voluntary service with the American Red Cross. I knew that she was fond of Herbie.

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“So they evacuated Herbie?” I asked.

She looked up, startled. Then her eyes filled—and it takes a great deal to make a woman cry after she has been seeing men die almost every day of her life for four years

“Herbie died yesterday morning,” she said.

From the ward orderly I learned afterward the story of his death. On the night of the twenty-first the infection started a hemorrhage. It was almost immediately detected and controlled, but in his weakened condition the loss of blood proved fatal. Every attempt was made to raise his blood pressure sufficiently to make an operation possible, but he never rallied from the condition of shock. He died just before dawn that morning. At that hour I was sound asleep in my billet. At the last, when he had so many things to think of, did he remember me, his friend?

So far as I know, he left just two things. One was a letter he wrote to his mother the night before he was wounded, when he expected to be killed at any moment.

He had kept it with him, and it was in the pocket of his pajamas when he died. It was the most truly pathetic thing I ever saw. You must remember that it was written by a quite normal boy under the expectation of sudden death at any moment. It had the awkwardness which any American boy of nineteen would show in trying to tell his mother of his love, but it told it so even more effectively. At the end he made a little will, giving all his few belongings to different members of his family. The chaplain took that and sent it to his mother. The other thing was one of the small buttons of his uniform which he gave me as a souvenir in the first days of our acquaintance.

A few days after Herbie’s death, I walked out to the American cemetery. It was just outside the grim, gray wall of the old French burying ground, beside the cobbled highway, in a wheat field. The wheat had grown up to the very foot of the wall; it was now golden and -almost ready for the harvest, starred here and there with flaming red poppies. From the foot of the wall a lane had been cut in the wheat, and two rows of raw mounds with brown crosses faced each other across a narrow path; all exactly alike except for the name plates. I had to stoop and read several before I found his—number 100. I laid a bunch of already wilting poppies on the mound, and stood a moment tryingto grasp the situation, to feel to its depths what Herbie’s death meant.

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The sun was just dropping below the horizon, sending out dazzling streamers on a level with the eye. A skylark was soaring and singing overhead. A cart trundled by on the cobbled road, and sweet and clear from the church spire came the peaceful notes of the Angelus. The air smelled of the harvest. I could not feel sad. My tired brain would not fix itself on the grave; it wandered off into a blissful apathy. I forgot for a moment the sight of mangled bodies and the smell of blood and ether and gas gangrene. The healing beauty streamed in upon me: the glory of the sunset, the smell of the wheat, the sound of the bell, the song of the lark. I could not grieve for Herbie at all. He was gone, forever; but for me no more gone than the other wounded men who had passed through our hospital for another.

I must have stood there a long time, for presently the dew came down and made me shiver. As I turned away, I saw far on the horizon to the northward a flash like heat lightning, and then, dull and muffled, I heard the thudding tremor of the guns.

Published in: on February 21, 2016 at 12:45 am  Comments (1)  

More Christmas greetings from the old front line

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Published in: on December 12, 2015 at 11:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The stillness was oppressive.” ~~~ An American surgeon on the Meuse records his impressions of the Armistice

wadeinOn the morning of the ninth, I decided that we must open up a new avenue of evacuation, and started up to Beaumont through Nouart and Laneuville, along the Meuse, to see if the road was safe for ambulances. I warned my driver that we should probably have to run the gauntlet of some shelling on our way through Laneuville. As we emerged from some woods and came into clear view of the village and the river, I could see shells breaking on the road ahead, particularly where it curved to descend to the village. The enemy’s guns were on the heights across the river, about a thousand yards away.

There was no need to tell my driver to put on speed. He fairly stepped on the accelerator, and we raced at the corner. The road was strewn with broken branches and filled with craters, but these we took in our stride, and rounded the comer with no greater mishap than a couple of holes in the mud guards. We tore down into the village and out on the river road to the west, the shelling following us until we were out of observation in some
woods.

We followed the road up into Beaumont, and as a result of the reconnaisance I was able to evacuate wounded by this route after dark. It made a vast amount of difference, for the road was in excellent condition, except for several short stretches. The wounded went direct from Beaumont to the surgical hospital at Landreville.

I attempted that same afternoon to go back to Division Headquarters at Fosse by way of the dirt road running south from Beaumont, but returned because of a block. On my way back into the town I was held up by two ambulances, one of which was supplying the other with gas.

On the other side of the block was a battery of artillery, and riding at the head of it I recognized my brother-in-law, Kermit In the few moments of conversation that were permitted, we sounded one another on the possibility of an armistice, and both felt that it was very unlikely. When two days later it actually came, it was a good deal of a surprise.

I spent the night at Beaumont, and ordered Field Hospital One by telephone to move up to that town. Beaumont was but two kilometers from the river, but a dip of the land protected it from direct observation, and it had only been subjected to desultory shellng. There was a goodsized church and a theater, both of which lent themselves for use as a hospital.

Early on the morning of the eleventh I was sitting in the office of G3, writing out an order for some medical supplies to send to the rear, when the telephone rang, and the sergeant answering it announced that an armistice would go into effect at eleven o’clock that morning. A general telephone alarm had been sent out transmitting this message.  I was completely stunned by the news, for while there had been persistent talk during the past few days that an armistice was imminent, I had not the slightest conception that it would actually occur. At twenty minutes of nine came official confirmation of the fact.

It was incredible that what had come to be our everyday life was thus suddenly to end. It was impossible at once to adapt oneself to the idea that there would no longer be a line of enemy out ahead as intent to kill you as you to kill them.

It was with thoughts like these pursuing one another through my mind that I jumped into my car, taking with me Boone and the Division Chaplain, and started for Beaumont. We went up by the river road through Laneuville, and where two days before I had run the gauntlet passing through the village, now all was peace and quiet. The stillness was oppressive.

The church at Beaumont was filled with casualties suffered during the crossing of the river, early that morning. As I moved about among them, talking to the men and watching the dressings, the church was suddenly filled with the peals of the organ, and under the leadership of Boone from the organ loft, we joined in the singing of “America.”

With the dying strains of the music, at a few minutes after eleven o’clock that November morning, the war became an incident of past history.

armisticeday~~~~~
Excerpted from Wade In, Sanitary! by LtCol Richard Derby, Medical Corps, Second Division, AEF. (NY: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1919). Dr. Derby was married to Ethel Roosevelt, the daughter of Theodore Roosevelt,

Published in: on November 9, 2015 at 2:55 am  Leave a Comment  

Memorial Day, sometime in the 1920s, in a cemetery outside a small midwestern town

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. . . Later that spring, on Memorial Day,
her father and other veterans marched
the length of a cedar-lined path to pay
respects to the local fallen. She thrilled
at how stern he appeared among the men,
at how smartly he bore himself, unmatched
in the curt retort and snap of his drill.
She shuddered to hear the synchronized crack
of volleys fired again and again
from a line of rifles slanted above
the white wooden cross of a soldier’s grave.
Observing the set of her father’s face,
like statuary, she pondered the lack
of expression, the marble stare into space.

—– Excerpted from the poem “Her Father’s War” by BJ Omanson, from his collection, Stark County Poems: War and the Depression come to Spoon River. “Her Father’s War” was first published in The Sewanee Review; later reprinted in Sparrow: A Yearbook of the Sonnet.

Published in: on May 25, 2015 at 2:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

One hundred years ago, April 25, 1915: the Gallipoli landings

gallipoliassaultOn this date, one hundred years ago— April 25, 1915— the disastrous Gallipoli Campaign opened (after a failed British and French naval assault) with a badly botched Allied landing on the Gallipoli peninsula in the Dardanelles strait, the objective of which was the capture of Constantinople.  Against all odds, as they were exposed to expert Turkish artillery and machine gun fire, and were never adequately supplied, the tenacious British, Australian and New Zealand troops managed to hold on to their tiny beachhead for over eight months, before they were finally evacuated.  In all that time, they were never able to make any significant advance against the Turkish defenders, though each side inflicted approximately a quarter-million casualties on the other.

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LINKS:

The Gallipoli Campaign. Wikipedia.

Battle of Gallipoli: animated battle map.

Gallipoli Centenary Research Project: Researching Gallipoli in the Turkish Military Archives. Macquarie University.

“Never-before-seen photographs show horror of doomed Gallipoli landings through the eyes of the soldiers who fought there.” Daily Mail UK.

Published in: on April 25, 2015 at 12:01 am  Leave a Comment  

One hundred years ago, 24 April 1915: Armenian genocide begins

24 April 1915: Turkish government begins systematic extermination of Armenians with the arrest of 250 Armenian intellectuals in Constantinople. The program of extermination will continue through the duration of the war and afterwards. The majority of able-bodied males will be executed or detained in forced labor camps. Women, children and the elderly will be forcibly marched hundreds of miles into the Syrian desert, while deprived of food and water and subjected to robbery, rape and murder along the way. From one million to one and a half million Armenians will die as a result of Turkish actions during this time.

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LINKS:

The Armenian Genocide.

Deportation of Armenian intellectuals on 24 April 1915.

A Chronology of the Armenian Genocide.

Map of the 1915 Armenian Genocide in the Turkish Empire.

Memorials to the Armenian Genocide.

Turkey angry at Pope Francis Armenian ‘genocide’ claim.

Published in: on April 23, 2015 at 11:51 am  Comments (1)  

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

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Many of the photographs in Army Nurse Edith MacDonald’s scrapbook (see The Scrapbook of an American Army Nurse in WWI: Part One), are of her colleagues (other nurses and medical officers) and her patients.  Fortunately, most of these are labeled with names but, unfortunately, with few additional details.  Moreover, many of the photos are in soft focus, making visual recognition difficult.

Nonetheless, publishing these pictures and names may prove worthwhile, if any of them are recognized by their families.  If anyone can shed light on any of these individuals, please do not hesitate to leave comments and information.  In this way, little by little, the history of Base Hospital 115, from the perspectives both of staff and patients, may be modestly expanded.

Edward Griffiths, rank unknown, 2d Infantry Division, AEF

Edward Griffiths, rank unknown, 2d Infantry Division, AEF

George P. Dickson, unit & rank unknown.  He writes on back of photo: "To Miss Edith E. MacDonald, from an Appreciative Doughboy"

George P. Dickson, unit & rank unknown. He writes on back of photo: “To Miss Edith E. MacDonald, from an Appreciative Doughboy”

Raymond R. Taylor, unit & rank unknown.

Raymond R. Taylor, unit & rank unknown.

 

Army Nurses Lottie M. Mumbauer (906 North 19th Street, Philadelphia) and Lorena S. Ingraham (107 Maple St, Lycoming, Colorado & Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania)

Army Nurses Lottie M. Mumbauer (906 North 19th Street, Philadelphia) and Lorena S. Ingraham (107 Maple St, Lycoming, Colorado & Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania)

Army Nurses Ella M. Williams (Graham, Tazewell County, Virginia) and Adelaide Campbell (106 Beaconsfield Ave, Toronto, Canada).

Army Nurses Ella M. Williams (Graham, Tazewell County, Virginia) and Adelaide Campbell (106 Beaconsfield Ave, Toronto, Canada).

Published in: on April 17, 2015 at 2:11 am  Leave a Comment  

First to Fall: the American Volunteers who Gave their Lives for France

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One hundred years ago, by the Spring of 1915, a full two years before America’s declaration of war against Germany, hundreds of young American men were already serving in or near the front lines— as infantrymen in the French Foreign Legion, as aviators in the Lafayette Flying Corps or Lafayette Escadrille, or as ambulance drivers with the American Field Service. These young men, many of them Ivy Leaguers from Harvard, Yale and Princeton, and other top universities, joined up of their own accord and at their own expense, putting their lives on hold for several years, for the privilege of defending someone else’s country. Their motives were both idealistic and personal, involving a love of French culture and the French generally, a hatred for what they saw as Teutonic militarism and aggression, and a degree of shame and impatience toward their own country, for failing to rise to what they saw as its moral responsibility to take its rightful place in the European War.

Though few in number, their influence on America’s decision finally to intervene in the war was significant. These young men were greatly admired in the United States and, because so many of them were from influential families and very well-connected, their letters home and articles in magazines, and the dashing figures they cut in the press, not only caught the popular imagination, but captured the attention of politicians and statesmen as well.

Yet today, a hundred years on, the American Volunteers are little remembered. I doubt that you will find even a passing mention of them in any American textbook.

For such reasons, it seems fitting to begin filling that void now, a hundred years on, one individual at a time. All the American Volunteers deserve to be remembered, but most of all those who died in the war, often before they could know that their sacrifice would prove instrumental in persuading their countrymen to rise to the occasion, and take up arms— or bandages— in the defense of France.

As often as time and opportunity permit, over the next three years, photographs and brief obituaries of individual Volunteers will appear here, beginning with three this evening, from the American Field Service, the French Service Aeronautique and the French Foreign Legion.

BJ Omanson

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SuckleyHENRY EGLINTON MONTGOMERY SUCKLEY II

Born February is 1887, in Orange New Jersey. Son of Robert Bowne and Elizabeth Montgomery Suckley. Home, Rhinebeck, New York. Educated abroad, Phillips Academy, Exeter, and Harvard University, Class of 1910. In business, New York City. joined American Field Service, February 12, 1915; attached Section Three; Sous-chef, May, 1915 to September, 1916. Recruited for Field Service, in America, September to November, Commandant Adjoint Section Ten, November, 1916. Croix de Guerre. To the Balkans. Wounded by avion bombs , March 18, at Zemlak. Died March 19, 1917, at Koritza, Albania. Buried in Koritza.

Speaking by his grave the senior French officer present said: “Henry Suckley always joined to the highest qualities of a leader the humble patience of a soldier, believing that the best way to obtain obedience was himself to set an example in everything.”

And one of the directors of the Field Service wrote when he heard of his death: “Of the many hundreds of Americans who have come and gone in this organization, he was one of the three or four on whom we depended the most and who was the most liked and trusted by those who worked with him or for him.”

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dowdMEREDITH LOVELAND DOWD

Born July 23, 1895, in Orange, New Jersey. Son of Heman and Mary Loveland Dowd. Educated Asheville School, North Carolina, and Princeton University, Class of 1918. Plattsburg Camp, 1916. Joined American Field Service, November 11, 1916; attached Section One to May 3, 1917. Enlisted French Aviation, May 14th. Trained Avord and Pau. Attached French Escadrille guarding Paris, Sergent. Spad Escadrilles 152 and 162 to February 17, 1918. Transferred U. S. Aviation. Commissioned Second Lieutenant, April, 1918; attached 147th Aero Squadron. Killed in combat, October 26, 1918, near Dannevoux, north of Verdun. Distinguished Service Cross. Buried Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, Meuse. Remains later removed to the Lafayette Flying Corps Memorial near St. Cloud.

On October 26th, 1918, Dowd and three others of 147th Squadron were ordered to patrol the lines, but he was delayed on account of engine trouble and his companions got off without him. He decided to follow and continued alone to the adventure that was to be his last. His commanding officer, Captain James A. Meissner, filed the following official report which was later used as a basis for the award of the Distinguished Service Cross:

DSC“Lieutenant Meredith L. Dowd, A. S., U. S. A. went on patrol over the lines on the afternoon of October 26, 1918, at about two o’clock. Over the Bois de Dannevoux he observed four German planes. According to the statement of Private M. M. Buckland, 305th Trench Mortar Battery, 80th Division, who saw the combat, Lieutenant Dowd first showed his markings to the planes as if they were Allied planes. As they did not answer his signal be attacked them immediately. The second time he attacked, one plane left the formation and headed for Germany. Lieutenant Dowd attacked the remaining planes three times, but the last time he drove on the formation, the plane which he had first driven off returned above him and shot him down. He fell in a steep dive and was dead when found by the French.”

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HENRY WESTON FARNSWORTH

“… One young American volunteer in the Foreign Legion was killed in the battle for the Fortin de Navarin at the end of September, 1915. He was Henry Weston Farnsworth, of Dedham, Massachusetts, a graduate of Groton and of Harvard, of the class of 1912. His tastes were bookish, musical and artistic. Burton, Dostoievski, Tolstoi, Gogol, Ibsen and Balzac were favorites with him, although his studies in literature covered a much wider field—the English classics as well as the modern continental writers. After he was graduated he spent the summer in Europe; visiting Vienna, Budapesth, Constantinople, Odessa, Moscow, and St. Petersburg, revelling in the historical associations, the art collections and the music of these cities, and making odd friends here and there, as was his wont, and studying the people.

When the European War broke out Farnsworth was in the city of Mexico, whither he had gone when the United States Government sent troops to Vera Cruz. In the meantime he had had some experience as a newspaper correspondent and reporter for the Providence Journal and had published a book, “The Log of a Would-be War Correspondent,” describing his experiences and observations in the Balkan War in the autumn of 1912, the fascination of which he could not resist. Returning home from Mexico, he sailed for England in October, 1914, with no intention of taking active part in the war, but with the desire to become an onlooker, in the hope that he might write something about the great conflict that would be worth while. The air of London and Paris was full of military projects, and he was tempted in various directions. Finally, after a period of hesitation and uncertainty, he entered the Foreign Legion early in January.

In course of time Farnsworth’s regiment was moved to the front in northern France, and early in March he was writing from the trenches. The sector was quiet and little of importance happened except an occasional bombardment or some desultory rifle firing. He was often on night patrol in No Man’s Land.  In one of these night expeditions Farnsworth and his companions succeeded in sticking some French newspapers announcing Italy’s declaration of war on the barbed wire in front of the German trenches. Pleased with their enterprise, their captain gave seven of them twenty francs for a fête.

In August Farnsworth’s regiment was in Alsace. In September, however, it was on the march and took part in the bloody battle in Champagne toward the end of the month. His last letter was dated September 16, 1915. He was killed in the charge that his battalion made on the 28th, before the Fortin de Navarin.

The Farnsworth Room in the Widener Memorial Library at Harvard, a large room for the leisurely reading of such standard books as Henry Farnsworth loved, was handsomely supplied with books, pictures and furniture by Mr. and Mrs. William Farnsworth, in memory of their son.”

~~ Edwin W. Morse

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SOURCES:

Gordon, Dennis.  The Lafayette Flying Corps: The American Volunteers in the French Air Service in World War One. (Atglen, PA: Schiffer Military History, 2000).

Morse, Edwin W.  The Vanguard of American Volunteers (NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1918).

Seymour, James William Davenport, ed. Memorial Volume of the American Field Service in France, “Friends of France,” 1914-1917 (Boston: American Field Service, 1921).

The Poilu in postcards

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The British historian and WWII veteran, John Laffin, in his valuable compilation, World War I in Postcards, finds these French carte postales from 1914-1918, compared to their more conservative British counterparts, frequently “overdone” and in “atrocious bad taste”. Personally I find them unexpected, playful and charming, even if occasionally verging on the absurd (how very French, after all).

Either way, our present-day reactions are hardly the point.  What is significant is how popular the cards were at the time with the soldiers themselves, who bought them and sent them home by the hundreds of thousands— not only French soldiers, but soldiers of all the allied armies serving in France.

My grandfather, a corporal with the US Marines in France in 1918, sent home several of them to his wife and niece back on the homeplace in Illinois when he was billeted in the tiny farming village of Germainvilliers in the Vosges foothills— and that was how, 35 years later when I was still a boy and he showed them to me, I first became acquainted with such cards.

Each county had its own distinctive postcards, of course, including the Germans, but the French postcards stand out from all the others, and were especially popular.  Given the miserable and unrelenting drabness of life at the front, these inexpensive trifles of charm and color, easily available in estaminets and stationary shops behind the lines, may well have seemed irresistible to soldiers just out of the trenches.

It is hardly necessary to point out the immeasurable distance between the fantasized image of the poilus in these cards— with their scrubbed male models wearing immaculately laundered and pressed uniforms against picturesque battlefield backdrops in pleasing pastels— and the actual mud-encrusted, lice-infested poilus they supposedly portrayed.  These cards were fantasy, pure and simple.  No one mistook them for any sort of reality, certainly not the soldiers themselves.  From our distant perspective, after a century of unspeakable warfare and atrocity following the end of the Great War, we might very well find such postcards inexcusably trite, or even mildly offensive. But the soldiers at the time seemed genuinely fond of them.  They certainly bought enough of them.

BJ Omanson

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Published in: on March 30, 2015 at 12:54 am  Comments (3)