Tag Archives: World War I

Valentines from the Great War

Oddly enough, love and war often do go together and we all know that absence often makes the heart grow fonder, so it’s only natural that the burgeoning greetings card industry would flourish during World War I. In the west, domestic producers had to replace that large part of the market that was previously produced by Germany, and “WWI silks”, embroidered greetings produced in France and Belgium, constituted one of the most important cottage industries of the war. It can be a little jarring to see military themes on cards that were supposed to foster sentiment, but it was a competitive market, and I’m sure that manufacturers wanted to seem current, and relevant. And you really can’t beat the sentiment when you see my ammunition, you’ll surrender your position, which was evidently quite popular as it was issued with a variety of images. So in celebration of St. Valentine’s Day and commemoration of the Great War, here is a selection of valentines from 1914-1919: from Great Britain, the United States, France, and (the most intimate of all, handmade on the Front) Australia.

Valentine Ambulance Bod Lib

Valentine Ambulance Interior Bod Lib

Valentine Nurse Bodleian Lib

Valentine LOC 1918 Over There

WWW Valentine LOC 1919

WWW Valentine LOC 1919 2

Valentine 1918 LOC

PicMonkey Collage

Cupid_Arrow_Heart

Valentine slogan WWI

Picture1

Valentine 1917 French Hearts

Love Letter Australian War Memorial 1918

Sources: Nancy Rosin Collection; Bodleian Library, Oxford University; Library of Congress; Ebay; Etsy; The Old Print Shop; Australian War Memorial.


White Feathers

Another snowstorm, another snow day for me, but I am tired of thinking and writing about that particular form of white. Yesterday I was sitting on the couch watching the 1939 film The Four Feathers (what a great movie!) while intermittently selecting images for a PowerPoint presentation on the Hundred Years’ War and quite suddenly there was a paradox about white feathers: in the film, of course, white feathers are a symbol of cowardice, while in the late medieval past, they became associated with heroism after the teenaged son of King Edward III, thereafter known as the Black Prince, led the English troops to a momentous victory against the French at the Battle of Crécy in 1346. His adoption of the three white feathers and the motto “Ich Dien” (“I serve”) established an emblem which is still attached to the Prince of Wales today. So we have a feather quandary! What’s the story?

Black Prince BM

23020 - The Four Feathers

The Black Prince with his feather-plumed helmet in a c. 1670 print published by Robert Walton; British Museum; Harry Faversham (John Clements) receives his three white feathers from his former mates and is about to pluck a fourth from the fan of his fiancée, Ethne Burroughts (June Duprez).

The story that I have pieced together has many gaps in it–and (as is often the case) there is no one big moment when somebody proclaims: white feathers stand for cowardice! Clearly by the turn of the twentieth century the association was generally known in Britain (not elsewhere), as evidenced by the publication of the 1902 A. E.W. Mason novel on which the Four Feathers films are based and P.G. Wodehouse’s boarding school tale The White Feather (1907), as well as Admiral Charles Fitzgerald’s Order of the White Feather, an organization which encouraged young women to present young men out of uniform with white feathers “encouraging” them to enlist during World War One (many of you might remember the Downton Abbey episode from season 2 which featured several feather girls). Apparently the association comes from cock-fighting (game birds with white feathers proving to be not as “brave” as those without) and dates back to the eighteenth century, although the first visual references that I could find date from the Napoleonic wars. Before that, nothing:  just a lot of (presumably heroic or at least virtuous) kings and princes wearing plumage.

Four Feathers 1902

Edward VI by Holbein MET

First edition of Mason’s Four Feathers (1902); a Holbein miniature of young Prince Edward (later King Edward VI) who, though never formally crowned Prince of Wales, is always depicted with the title’s emblem, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Whatever its origins, the white feather/cowardice connection is a strictly British one. Both across the Atlantic Ocean and across the English Channel, no such association developed. French kings and nobles are routinely pictured with white plumage in the early modern era, including the ever-popular, and always-courageous, Henri IV, who compelled his troops to ralliez-vous à mon panache blanc! (follow my white plume!). At the same time that Napoleon is comically portrayed by caricaturist William Elmes “with a white feather in his tail”, Henri IV is ideally depicted with a white feather in his helmet, leading the troops. A real contradiction–and I’m not sure I’m buying the “cowardly cock” theory either. Just look at one of British artist Hilton Lark Pratt’s white-tailed fighting cocks: that’s one tough bird!

Napoleon with White Feathers 1813

Henri IV NYPL

Fighting Cock Hilton Lark Pratt

William Elmes’, “Little Bony sneaking into Paris with a white feather in his tail”, 1813, Napoleonic Period Collection, University of Washington Digital Collections; Henri IV at the Battle of Ivry, 19th century, New York Public Library Digital Collections; Hilton Lark Pratt (1838-1875), “Fighting Cock”, National Trust for Scotland


Some Came Back

Given that I, along with every other historically-conscious person in the world, have been thinking about World War One and its aftermath in this anniversary year of its commencement, that has to be my focus for this Veterans Day. I’ve been thinking about the impact of the Great War on Salem and its inhabitants for a while, but I haven’t really had time to engage in any serious research: I suppose that I have until 2017! This is one of those cases of “anniversary history” where the American and European perspectives are not quite in sync. I have found one great digital database, however: at the State Library of Massachusetts. A five-year project to digitize over 8,000 portraits of soldiers has created an amazing resource that every descendant of a Massachusetts doughboy will want to check out. Most of the photographs are accompanied by “cut slips” of paper that I find almost as poignant as the images themselves: data sheets for prospective Boston Globe stories which lists the soldier’s name, hometown, and story: either “experiences” or “killed in action”. The photographs were taken before the men shipped out; the slips were made out after armistice was declared. Some of these Salem men came back, and some did not.

Annable

Corp. Walter W. Annable, Battery F., 101st F. A.; Came Back.

Redmond

Capt. Ernest R. Redmond, Battery E, 101st F. A; Came Back (and ran unsuccessfully for Mayor of Salem in 1925).

Marcotte

Corp. Henry J. Marcotte, Co. M, 103rd Infantry; Came Back.

Lynch

Corp. Henry F. Lynch, 301st F. A.; Came Back.

Murphy

Henry G. Murphy, 101st F. A. Battery D.; Killed in Action in France.

Bufford

O. J. Bufford, Battery D., 101st F. A.; Killed by accident in France.

These are just a few Salem men and their fates: the entire record includes many casualties of war and as many–or more–of disease: the immediate post-war influenza epidemic which decimated the United States and the world. Imagine surviving the trenches and then dying from the flu in an army camp back home–or nearly there. Of course every death is heroic, but some were officially recognized as such, like that of Thomas Upton of Salem, who received a Distinguished Service Cross posthumously for extraordinary heroism in action near Belleau, France, on July 20, 1918. He voluntarily crossed a zone swept by machine gun and shell fire to aid wounded soldiers, and was killed. Conflict and contagion in 1918, and cheering crowds for those that came back.

Some Came Back 1918 Leslie Jones

Some Came Back 2 1918 Leslie Jones

Armistice Day 1919 SSU Dionne

Massachusetts troops arriving in Boston in 1918, Leslie Jones Collection, Boston Public Library; the first Armistice Day Parade in Salem, 1919, Dionne Collection, Salem State University Archives.

 


 

 


One Woman’s War

As part of the World War I centennial commemorations which are slowly taking shape in the US and in full flight over there in Europe, the Massachusetts Historical Society has assembled an exhibition entitled Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country: Massachusetts Women in the First World War, the centerpiece of which are the nearly 250 photographs taken by Newton textile heiress Margaret Hall, who left her comfortable life in the summer of 1918 to take up work at a Red Cross canteen in France. Hall was 42 at the time, but she had been a history major at Bryn Mawr, and it is very clear to me–from both her photographs and their captions and the letters assembled in the accompanying book Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country: the World War I Memoir of Margaret Hall (ed. by Margaret R. Higonnet with Susan Solomon)– that she felt honor-bound to record the devastation of the Great War. And that she did. Her photographs, which have all been digitized on the MHS website, fall into roughly three categories: life at the canteen, troop movements, and the ravages of war–the latter images include the French countryside, leveled cities (Ypres!!!! Verdun), and the battlefields, which look like wasteland and are labeled as such. She takes us (literally) into the trenches and shows us all the captured German ammunition: my favorite image is of a celebratory Paris at war’s end where a pile of German guns is topped by a triumphant French rooster. Hall takes care to show both life and death in the closing months of the war, and from her American perspective she clearly grasps the fact that this was the first world war, bringing men (and women) from all over the globe to live (and die) in France.

Just a few of Margaret Hall’s photographs:

One woman's War I

French troops on the march.

One woman's War 2

“Miss Mitchell in her Garden”: Hall’s colleagues at the Red Cross canteen in Châlons-sur-Marne.

One woman's war 3 Six Nationalities

“Six Nationalities” at the Canteen.

One Woman's War 4 Our Sausage Balloon

“Our Sausage Balloon”

One Woman's War 5 Reims Cathedral

Reims Cathedral, “France triumphant rising out of her ruins”

One Woman's War 7 Verdun

Outside Verdun.

One Womans War 5 Americans

Americans.

One Woman's War 8 Cemetery

“U.S.A. National Cemetery, Romagne–Argonne, June 1919”.

One Woman's War 9 Cock

 “Cock crowing for Victory“, Paris 1919.


Under the Spell of the Poppies

Back to World War I remembrance; I can’t help myself: I’m under the spell of the poppies–not real poppies (which I really don’t care for all that much) or the intoxicating poppies alluded to in the captivating Strobridge Wizard of Oz poster below, but the thousands of ceramic poppies that are now literally spilling out of the Tower of London in remembrance of British lives lost during the Great War. Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, the vision of ceramic artist Paul Cummins and stage designer Tom Piper, opened yesterday–the day on which Britain entered the war–and will expand over the fall, until there are 888,246 flowers in total, one for each soldier from Britain and its empire killed during the war. The final porcelain poppy will be “planted” on November 11, Remembrance Day, a day which has long been symbolized by the poppies of Flanders fields. The images of this installation are so striking that I can’t wait to see the real thing; I’m planning on heading over to the UK in October, which should be just in time.

Poppies oz Cincinnatti

Poppies at Tower

Poppies Tower

Poppies close up

(c) BRIDGEMAN; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Strobridge Wizard of Oz poster, Virtual Library/Public Library of Cincinnatti and Hamilton County; photographs of Blood Swept Land and Seas of Red, Historic Royal Palaces; Christopher Nevinson, A Front Line near St Quentin (1918), Manchester City Galleries; The Tower of London Remembers/#TowerPoppies


The Shape of War

I am still a bit preoccupied with the ongoing World War I commemoration, even though it’s obviously going to go on for some time and I’m up in Maine on vacation: pretty pictures to follow, but for today images that (while colorful!) could certainly not be called pretty. I was clicking around the vast British Library site devoted to the Great War, which is incredibly resourceful in myriad ways, when I came upon some of the wartime images of the Russian abstract artist Kazimir Malevich (1878-1935). I sort of knew about him–but not really: his name conjured up distant images of the iconic “black square” painting which is quite simply a black square and little else. He was actually an artist who worked in several mediums and experimented with different depictive approaches, most prominently a Cubist-inspired geometric abstraction which was labeled “Suprematism”. He clearly loved shapes. I naively thought of him as simply a Russian Revolutionary artist, but in fact he was born in Ukraine to Polish parents and his work was suppressed in the Soviet Union during the 1930s. I have not idea what his identity was, but his World War I posters are very decidedly anti-German and immediately accessible: by merging the folkloric and the geometric–and using a bright, simplistic palette–he was able to make some pretty powerful statements, which were published as posters and postcards. World War I is known for its strident and sophisticated (but not subtle!) propaganda, another form of warfare itself, and Malevich’s images are great examples: they represent the shape of war but also of things to come.

Malevich Just Look

Look, Just Look, the Vistula is Near (1914); ©  Kazimir Malevich.

Malevich Butcher

The Butcher came along to Lodz, We said “My good Sir” (1914) © Kazimir Malevich. A depiction of the Russian victory–and defense of Warsaw– at the Battle of Lodz in the Fall of 1914.

Malevich Wilhelm

(Kaiser) Wilhelm’s Merry-Go-Round (1914); © Kazimir Malevich and Vladimir Mayakovsky (text).

Malevich Allies

Our French allies have a cart full of dead Germans, and our English brothers – a whole basket too (1914); © Kazimir Malevich and Vladimir Mayakovsky (text).

Malevich Boom

What a Boom, What a Blast (1915); National Library of Australia.

All images, except the last, at the British Library World War One site. Malevich is having a moment, and an exhibition: “Malevich: Revolutionary of Russian Art”.

 

 

 


The Great War Remembered

With the centennial anniversary of the commencement of the Great War, World War I, occurring yesterday perhaps Americans will become more conscious of the commemoration that has been underway in Europe for some time. Or perhaps not–we might wait until 1917. This was a war that was so momentous, so global, so total, that there are many ways to recall and remember it–literary, visual, material: the detritus of the Great War will be with us forever. I’ve read many World War I poems, by soldiers who died and survived, seen many World War I films, made close to its time and farther away, seen many examples of “trench art”, and touched medals, bullets and helmets. Whenever I have to teach this War (which for me happens only in broad world and western civilization surveys, so I don’t have much time), I rely on examples of the stunning (in a horrifying way) photographs of life on the front (my key source for these is the Imperial War Museum in London) and recruiting posters, which can represent themes and issues relevant to both fronts: “over there” and home. As it happens, Swann Auction Galleries in New York City is auctioning off a large collection of vintage 20th century posters next week, including some amazing (in terms of both art and message) World War I recruiting posters, and the online catalog is comprehensive, annotated, and extremely educational. Here’s a small sample–in chronological order:

M29589-30 001

M28269-31 001

M29589-5 001

M29140-2 001

M29027-9012 001

M29589-15 001

M29589-3 001

1. SAVILE LUMLEY (1876-1960) DADDY, WHAT DID YOU DO IN THE GREAT WAR? 1915. The classic “shame” poster–pretty powerful! 2. A.G.R. (DATES UNKNOWN) CANADIENS FRANCAIS / VENEZ AVEC NOUS DANS LE 150IÈME BATAILLON C.M.R. 1915. A bird fight! 3.A.O. MAKSIMOV (DATES UNKNOWN). [WAR LOAN / FORWARD FOR THE MOTHERLAND!] 1916. One of the last Tsarist appeals before the Russian Revolution. 4. JAMES MONTGOMERY FLAGG (1870-1960) WAKE UP, AMERICA! 1917. 5. DAVID HENRY SOUTER (1862-1935) IT’S NICE IN THE SURF BUT WHAT ABOUT THE MEN IN THE TRENCHES / GO AND HELP. 1917. An Australian version of the shame poster. 5. RICHARD FAYERWEATHER BABCOCK (1887-1954) JOIN THE NAVY. 1917. This might have been the inspiration for Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove! 7. EDWARD PENFIELD (1866-1925) YES SIR – I AM HERE! / MOTOR CORPS OF AMERICA. 1918. So many World War I posters reflect women’s service during the war; this is a rare Edward Penfield image.

One young American man who could not wait until 1917 was Allan Seeger (uncle of Pete), who volunteered for the French Foreign Legion almost immediately after the hostilities began in Europe and died at the Battle of Somme (July-November, 1916) alongside a million other men. He left behind this prescient, poignant poem, which was first published in 1917, just as his fellow Americans were heading “over there”:

I Have a Rendezvous with Death, Alan Seeger:

I have a rendezvous with death/At some disputed barricade,/When Spring comes back with rustling shade/And apple-blossoms fill the air–/I have a rendezvous with Death/ When Spring brings back blue days and fair/ It may be he shall take my hand/And lead me into his dark land/And close my eyes and quench my breath–/It may be I shall pass him still/I have a rendezvous with Death/On some scarred slope of battered hill,/When Spring comes round again this year/And the first meadow-flowers appear./God knows ’twere better to be deep/Pillowed in silk and scented down./Where Love throbs out in blissful sleep/Pulse nigh to pulse and breath to breath/When hushed awakenings are dear…../But I’ve a rendezvous with Death/at midnight in some flaming town./When Spring trips north, again this year,/And I to my pledged word am true,/I shall not fail that rendezvous.

 

 


Anniversary History 1914

I used to disdain what I call “anniversary history”–the commemoration of historical events only on their centenaries, a temporary historical consciousness–as not serious and media-driven: a History Channel approach to history. I tried to engage in a bit of anniversary myself back in 2012, and the results were indeed a bit superficial! I still believe that “history” happens every day and everything is “historical” but I also realize that it’s impossible for the average person to go about their day (or their life) in a historical fog so the marking of anniversaries of events large and small, public and private, and global and local is important, and even necessary. They make people stop and think about the past–and its relation to the present–at least for a little while.

From my perspective(s), 1914 promises to be a big year for anniversary history:  this summer marks the centenary of both the Great Salem Fire and the beginning of World War I in Europe. Over there, commemoration of the latter has already begun in earnest and will intensify over this year; I expect American engagement will really commence in 2017, the centenary of our entry into the Great War (although President Obama visited Flanders Fields a few days ago). This coincidence of local and global  “Great” events is interesting to me because it mirrors historiographical and cultural trends, and because both events were so very disastrous, testing the mettle of men and women in myriad ways. Here in Salem, we began our commemoration of the 1914 fire last night with a presentation by the scholar Jacob Remes, author of the forthcoming Disaster Citizenship: Urban Disasters and the Formation of the North American Progressive State, to a standing-room-only crowd at the National Park Service Visitor Center (the former drill shed, or what remains of the Salem Armory, where the Fire relief efforts were based). Remes’ focus, on the aftermath of the fire both in the camps (where fire refugees were called “inmates”!) and the rebuilt factories a bit later, bridged the local and the global with its emphasis on labor, and started us off on a thoughtful and reverent note. There will be a centenary symposium in June, on the weekend before the date of the Fire (June 25) and just before the commemoration of the Great War really kicks off across the Atlantic.

Salem Fire-001

salemfire093

World War One Soldiers

Faces of the Great Fire and the Great War:  In Salem, after the Fire, unidentified men and Mrs. Henry Reed and her daughter Helen, from the Dionne Collection at the Salem State University Archives and Special Collections; Soldiers of the West Yorkshire Regiment sitting in a captured German pillbox awaiting their orders at the Battle of Polygon Wood, 1917, Ministry of Information First World War Official Collection, Imperial War Museums:  ©IWM (Q2903).

 


Aid and Comfort

My family does not have a long list of veterans in its present or past, so Veterans Day has always been a bit abstract for me, or just the tail end of another long weekend.  I’m as patriotic as the next person, so I always try to think about war, service, and loss on the actual day, but my thoughts are not particularly personal, and consequently, not very heartfelt. I must admit that several Veterans Days have been “observed” by watching marathons of war films on Turner Classic Movies, or, even worse, going shopping!  This year, however, I am more thoughtful, because I am focused, finally, on my grandfather’s service during World War II.

My paternal grandfather, who died in 1996, was a physician who served as a lieutenant in the  U.S. Navy Medical Corps from 1943-45.  He was the medical officer on board the USS Taluga, which was hit by a kamikaze suicide plane attack in April of 1945, and also worked in a field hospital on the island of Okinawa. I don’t remember him talking about these experiences at great length; his identity was always more physician (and patriarch) than it was veteran.  And sadly, I don’t think I really every questioned him about it, in any detail.  We recently celebrated the 100th birthday of his wife, my grandmother, and while putting together a photographic presentation of her life, I came across several pictures of Pops in uniform, and finally started to focus on his service.  Too little, too late; Nana can answer some questions, and there are letters, but I really wish I had had conversations with my veteran while he was still alive.

Since I don’t have the particulars, I’ll be more general; it occurred to me that medical advances are one of the very few positive outcomes of war, both in the past and the present. Not only did physicians, nurses, and medics provide essential aid and comfort in the midst of war, what they learned about the treatment of battlefield injuries contributed cumulatively to the advance of medicine after the war. War and medicine have been inextricably linked, through the centuries, and most intensively in last century of  total war weaponry and tactics. So my focus for this Veterans Day is on those who healed those who fought.

We don’t have any pictures of my grandfather doing his work during the war, and he wasn’t a surgeon, but I think the picture of a wartime surgery in the Pacific theater is particularly poignant, as is the following one of nurses on their way home, for quite different reasons.

Two pictures from the National Archives:  “In an underground surgery room, behind the front lines on Bougainville, an American Army doctor operates on a U.S. soldier wounded by a Japanese sniper.” December 13, 1943; and   “Nurses of a field hospital who arrived in France via England and Egypt after three years service.” Parker, August 12, 1944. The 9th Field Hospital at Okinawa, 1944, National Library of Medicine.

I can’t imagine how the medical corps of World War I dealt with military innovations of this “great war”, the gas, machine guns and trench warfare for which they had no reference.  And then the aftermath:  the legions of amputees, disfigured, and disabled veterans who would require treatment, rehabilitation, and aid long after the war was over.  The interwar era saw unprecedented advances in medicine due to the military medical professionals who rose to these challenges. Military medicine came to benefit not only those who served, but also society as a whole.

Scenes from World War I and after, from the National Library of Medicinean American ambulance corps at work in France, typhoid vaccinations, and “above knee amputation with peg legs reconstruction class”, 1917-1919.

I could show you picture after picture of injured and mutilated veterans of World War I; their sacrifices were documented by the medical corps for the greater good.  Clearly the nature of the injuries sustained in the Great War was unprecedented but the inclination to learn from such suffering was not:  Civil War injuries were documented as well, by battlefield physicians who were no doubt overwhelmed by the circumstances they found themselves in, and after, by their colleagues who were attempting to learn from the recent past–and probably prepare for the future.

U.S. Sanitary Commission Hospital at Gettysburg, 1863, New York Public Library Digital Gallery; page from The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion, 1861–65, United States Surgeon General’s Office, 1870-88:  from the Smithsonian Institution Libraries’ Digital Exhibition “Picturing Words:  the Power of Book Illustration”.

The history of military medicine certainly doesn’t begin with the Civil War; I could trace battlefield physicians back to the Renaissance and certainly there were countless, anonymous nurses on the sidelines over the ages.  But the futility of their efforts in the face of war is important to note:  more soldiers died of disease and battlefield surgeries than combat injuries until World War I. So I’m going to end with a physician who offered even more than his professional skills and expertise in service to his country:  Boston’s own Dr. Joseph Warren, who died fighting in the Battle of Bunker (Breed’s) Hill, galvanizing the will of his fellow patriots.

An illustration from Heisters Surgery (1768), National Library of Medicine; John Trumbull, The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill, 1786, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.


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