An Account of Armistice Day

The poppy has become the symbol of the Great War in the UK and a symbol honoring all veterans in the US.

The poppy has become the symbol of the Great War in the UK and a symbol honoring all veterans in the US.

11.11.18. The End. The War to End All Wars draws to a ceasefire.

11.11.15. Ninety-seven years later, the ubiquitous red poppy adorns posters, lapels, and sweaters across the world. It is now known that the Great War did not end all wars, but it continues to have a resounding legacy nearly a century later. Two- minutes silences will be held across nations today to pause and remember the service and sacrifices of veterans. My own poppy stands in crimson contrast with the cream Scottish wool sweater I have chosen to wear, a conscious choice to highlight the day.

Lancaster, PA Armistice Day Parade, 1942. LC-DIG-fsa-8d23381

Lancaster, PA Armistice Day Parade, 1942. LC-DIG-fsa-8d23381

On the first Armistice Day, however, men at the front lines saw little fanfare. No elaborate celebrations had been planned, the ceasefire itself coming as an anticlimactic end to a turbulent war.

American artilleryman Fritz Draper Hurd spent 27 months on the Western Front, first serving as a nurse with a British hospital unit and later transferring to the American artillery after intervention in 1917. During his war time, Hurd had staffed a hospital during the devastating German offensive in the spring of 1918, working 24 hour shifts in an attempt to clear the wounded and spent the summer/fall of 1918 as a liaison officer for the 103rd Field Artillery, creeping through No Man’s Land with a telephone to call back enemy coordinates to his battery.

2nd Lt. Fritz Draper Hurd. Courtesy Gettysburg College Special Collections.

2nd Lt. Fritz Draper Hurd. Courtesy Gettysburg College Special Collections.

On the evening of November 11, 1918, he wrote the following in his diary:

 Firing galore until 11 a.m. infantry advance @ 9:30 “Cease fire” @ 11… Feeling rotten. Lots of flares + rockets in sky tonight. Lots of lights. Wakened the doc @ 5. Thot my heart was stopping. Lesile, Dr. Stanion + I take walk out to old boche territory. Visited Flabao, Mouirey + Crepion, came back saw lots dead at Ormont farm. Cold.

Hurd’s armistice was spent in a miserable fashion. Sick and cold, Hurd watched the infantry advance right up until armistice was called and then walked out to enemy territory amidst corpses. Significantly, this is the first time in Hurd’s trench diary where exposed corpses are mentioned. For several days after the armistice, Hurd walked No Man’s Land and commented on the bodies strewn about the landscape (even accidentally gassing himself several days after the war ended while fumbling with surplus shells). During wartime, though he certainly would have seen bodies, he chose not to mention them and focus instead on the job at hand. In his seemingly aimless peace before demobilatizaion, Hurd had no choice but to be confronted with the magnitude of devastation wrought by the war and begin to put his own experience into context.

Almost five decades later, and aging Hurd recorded a memoir of his service for posterity. His memoir account of the Armistice is as follows:

Then we heard that the War was going to end and I don’t know but I suppose a lot of people did the same thing, but we fired a shell—the thing was supposed to end at 11:00 o’clock on the 11th of November and we fired a shell that I think was in flight 10 seconds so that 10 seconds before 11:00 o’clock on the 11th of November, we said that we were the last one to fire a shell in the War. Well, as a matter of fact there wasn’t much going on the last part and in the Argonne offensive, later on, when we had these boys going by our place, they were going into the line. In the first place, we heard the rumor on the 7th of November that it was going to end and then they kept going over the top. Moving forward on the 9th and then on the 11th, when we heard that they were ordered to move just as far forward as they could, we felt that this was just a little too much, but I might say (in defense of such action) there was not too much trust in regards to the word of the Germans and things were very touchy and there was always a doubt as to sincerity of their word.
Well, I think I was delegated to go back the next day to some town and get twelve bottles of champagne and we all drank champagne. There again, it was very impressive to hear the very silence of everything. There was nothing on the roads. Everything was quiet. There was no firing, no lights, no nothing! However, after the third or fourth day, then we began seeing people who came up from the rear in cars so that the first few days afterwards there was just nothing moving and it was a very eerie feeling.
We didn’t go into Germany because the 26th division was just “too damned shot up.” Our horses were shot up, we were not motorized yet, and our infantry certainly was shot up and we were one of the few Divisions that weren’t allowed or ordered into Germany. Whether this was an honor or a rebuff, I don’t know.

In his aging recollections, Hurd remembered drinking champagne, but nothing in his diary or recollections suggests raucous or well organized celebration. Rather, the impressive and “eerie” silence overwhelmed and confused the senses that had become so used to constant lights and the roaring of artillery.

Hurd remained proud of his war service but also moved on with his life. To celebrate the first anniversary of the Armistice, he joined the American Legion. On the second anniversary, the now busy medical student found himself in the lab performing an autopsy, studying to become a doctor, his profession for the rest of his life. In closing his memoir, Hurd wrote:

I feel that in completing the record of my experience in France, and during the War that I should mention the battles which I was credited with and given bars to show on my victory medal ribbon. There were five bars which included one in the “Defensive Sector.” This bar was given to everyone, however, the four additional bars which were hung on to my victory medal ribbon were the bars marked Champagne March, Aisne Marne, St. Mihiel, and Meuse Argonne. I feel it incumbent that I mention these various campaigns in which I saw service and which is evidence of my activities during the war of which I am very proud.

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Students at War: William Buedinger ’20

Today’s Student at War is William Buedinger, Gettysburg College class of 1920. Buedinger interrupted his studies in 1917 to enlist with the newly forming Army Air Corps and was stationed at Ellinston Field in Houston, Texas. Although protected from the dangers of the front by some six thousand miles, life training in the Air Corps was nonetheless dangers. Air power was an infant technology. Although American industrial companies such as Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company strove to put out quality aeroplanes in mass amounts, trial and error of the new technology meant planes were often notorious for technical failure. This combined with inexperienced pilots created frequent crashes, such as the one humorously recalled by Buedinger in a letter to one of his former Gettysburg professors, Dr. Parsons. Buedinger wrote:

“Perhaps you will remember how, during the last collegiate year, when I was still attending your classes, I asked you, in a half jesting way, about the Theory of Falling Bodies. That was shoritly after I had enlisted in this branch of the service. Since that time, in fact to be definite Saturday morning, May 25, I worked out the experiment by falling 3500 feet in an aeroplane and as a result I am now a patient in the Post Hospital with a two inch gash in my right leg.”

Assembly line of the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company, circa 1917-1918. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Assembly line of the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company, circa 1917-1918. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Although he never made it to France, Buedinger served on the front lines of new technology and spent six weeks in hospital recovering from his death-defying tail spin. After the war he returned to Gettysburg College and graduated in 1920. The short excerpt from his letter reveals a continued connection between student and professor and an interesting effort at humor despite what must have been a terrifying crash.

Students At War: John Helper ’13

Continuing with the “Students at War” series, today’s post is drawn from a collection of surveys given to Pennsylvania College* alumni requesting details of their service during the Great War. The collection is fascinating and reveals alumni serving in many capacities during the war effort as chaplains, medics, soldiers, sailors, aviators, even a few chemical researchers and Four-Minute Men. John Helper, Pennsylvania College class of 1913, enlisted with the Medical Corps and was sent to Camp Greenleaf, Georgia for training.

*now Gettysburg College

1917 Panorama of Camp Greenleaf. LCCN2007664092

                                         1917 Panorama of Camp Greenleaf. LCCN2007664092

The camp was located just adjacent to the Chickamauga battlefield of 1863 during the American Civil War. See my previous post about the extensive use of Civil War Battlefields as Great War training camps.

Medical Officers in Training, Camp Greenleaf. LCCN2007660403

Medical Officers in Training, Camp Greenleaf. LCCN2007660403

Helper spent the entirety of his war service at Camp Greenleaf, never seeing combat. Life at Greenleaf was filled with sweltering days of Georgia heat and medical drill. In his survey, Helper’s sense of humor (and perhaps a tinge of bitterness) reveals itself in his response to the question asking him to detail the particulars of his war service. Helper replied he and his comrades “Built roads (for real soldiers) and fought mosquitos, ammunition being crude oil which we shot at them in sprayers.”

From the survey answers, it is unclear with Helper meant by this parenthetical insertion of “real soldiers.” He volunteered for the Medical Corps, so it is unlikely he would feel less important than an infantry soldier. Did he feel his service was valued less by others because he didn’t shoulder a rifle and fight in France? Was he self-conscious and disappointed that he had not served abroad? In reality, John Helper’s war against mosquitos in a domestic training camp is just as typical of an experience for an American soldier as that of one serving overseas. Half of the nearly 4 million American men mobilized for war never left their domestic mobilization sites. John Helper’s service at Camp Greenleaf demonstrates an alternative experience of war.

For further reading on mobilization numbers, see:

Mitchell Yockelson, “They Answered the Call: Military Service in the United States Army During World War I, 1917-1919,” Prologue Magazine (Fall 1998, Vol. 30, No. 3).

Neutral Shipping: the Diplomatic War of 1915

As promised, here comes a whirlpool of 1915 shipping controversy.

William P. Frye LC-USZ62-39476

William P. Frye LC-USZ62-39476

 

For Americans, the Great War in 1915 became a story of diplomatic controversy over neutrality laws, shipping, and submarine warfare. One may be thinking, “Seriously, shipping laws? Who cares?” In reality, understanding the shipping debate is essential to understanding America’s role in the war. Despite staying out of the war, the global conflict was affecting Americans, albeit in a distant way. In 1915, Americans began losing cargo and in some cases, American lives at sea. Much to Wilson’s protest, both Great Britain and Imperial Germany disrespected American neutrality when ships were in war zones. The basic timeline is as follows:

January: Great Britain seizing merchant ships for cargo, German U-boat sinks William P. Frye. Wilson    demands explanation from Britain and reparations from Germany.

March: German officials conciliatory towards Wilson and offer reparations, acknowledging sinking the Frye was unnecessary. Two weeks later, U-boat sinks Falaba without warning or making provisions for sinking passengers.

April: U.S. War Risk Insurance board pays $401,000 to compensate for the loss of the American ship Evelyn.

May: American oil steamer engaged in gunfight with U-boat, sunk by torpedo off the coast of the Scilly Islands (western coast of United Kingdom).

Four more neutral ships (Norwegian and Swedish) sunk. United States demands explanation, situation “uneasy.”

Lusitania sunk, Wilson issues statement: “There is such a thing as a man being too proud to fight. There is such a thing as a nation being so far in the right that it does not have to use force to show it is right.” Also demands full reparation from Germany for lives lost.

June: Cables and notes sent back and forth between German and American officials. U.S. demands limitations to sub-warfare, Germany demands U.S. ships stay out of declared war zones.

July: Diplomatic situation labeled a “crisis.” Germany accuses U.S. of violating neutrality by shipping to Allies and “that it is unreasonable for the United States to undertake to restrict Germany’s submarine operations around the British isles.” Negotiations at a stalemate.

German uboat U27. Wikimedia Commons.

German uboat U27. Wikimedia Commons.

The question for us is how important this debate was in framing American perceptions of the ongoing war. Several telling points emerge:

  • Throughout the summer, shipping stories consistently ran large articles in the first few pages of the newspaper, prominent in the minds of Main Street America.
  • The focus on Germany activity as opposed to British. The British may take cargo, but the likelihood of loss of American life lay with the U-boat issue, covering it in moral language of German “evils.”
  • The stress of both American and German ambassadors to use diplomatic means. Despite more peripheral calls to avenge American deaths, Wilson at all times remained in favor of staying out of the war.
  • Wilson’s stance made it difficult to stay out of the war. Germany’s accusations carried validity. In time of global war, the United States demanding to not only sail its own ships but especially to allow its citizens to travel on belligerent ships meant that U-boat incidents involving Americans should not have been surprising. Although he spoke publicly about being “too proud to fight” and emphasized peace, the American position on shipping and freedom of the seas made neutrality a difficult task to carry out.

 

 

 

 

 

In the Future: When Germany Invades

One hundred years ago today, The Gettysburg Times ran an unconcerting but rather curious front page article:

Front Page Gettysburg Times, June 18, 1915. From Google Archive.

Front Page Gettysburg Times, June 18, 1915. From Google Archive.

 

The piece, small, short, and tossed at the bottom of the page, was nonetheless judged to be front-matter worthy. To date, only the Lusitania survivor story (see excerpt here) had made front page headlines when releated to the war raging in Europe and Asia. The lack of context makes the piece somewhat mysterious. The name of the magazine is not mentioned, and the only information in a cursory search for Cleveland Moffett identified him as an author and journalist who worked at various times for the New York Herald and New York Recorder.  The language of “when” Germany invade displays a certain anxiety and belief that America may not be able to remain neutral in the current war. At this time, President Wilson was at diplomatic loggerheads with German officials over U-boat policy, but that alone was not enough to spark a war between Germany and the United States.  It is interesting that the author of this piece also cited the 50th Civil War Reunion and Gettysburg’s rather famous logigistical capabilities for massing armies. Imagining a German invasion in 1921 seems fantasical and far-fetched for June of 1915, but it betrays two underlying anxieties: first, that perhaps a victorious Germany could pose an imperial threat to the United States and second, that America and Gettysburg specifically would need to be ready to respond and mobilize for another war.

 

 

100 Years Ago Today: William Jennings Bryan Resigns

President Wilson and Secretary of State Bryan. LC-USZ62-68294

President Wilson and Secretary of State Bryan. LC-USZ62-68294

One hundred years ago today, news broke in Gettysburg that Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan had resigned his post over the Lusitania situation. One month after the sinking, the American public still vacillated over a response to the tragedy. Teddy Roosevelt advocated intervention on the side of the Allies to respond to the 126 American lives lost at the torpedoes of a German submarine. Many other Americans, however, were far more unsure in their opinions. Although it was generally agreed some sort of stiff response and demand to cease unrestricted sub-warfare be made, the risk of drawing American into a war marked by its horrific effects on land and body did not appeal to mainstream America. President Wilson favored stern diplomatic courses in an attempt to reign in Imperial Germany. Bryan, however, disagreed. In his official statement, Bryan remarked, “Why should an American citizen be permitted to involve his country in war by traveling upon a belligerent ship, when he knows that the ship will pass through a danger zone?” The German navy, Bryan argued, had warned all neutral nations that belligerent ships within designated waters would be targeted regardless of the views held by or nationality of those on board. Bryan concluded Americans on the Lusitania had foolishly risked their own lives and the status of the nation’s neutrality by boarding a British passenger liner.

Bryan’s resignation on principle led to his replacement, Robert Lansing. Although not a definitive turning point, Lansing was known to be far more pro-intervention than Bryan and had the potential to push Wilson for a war declaration.

Secretary of State Robert Lansing at his desk. LC-DIG-hec-07466

Secretary of State Robert Lansing at his desk. LC-DIG-hec-07466

 

For more reading on the subject of American entry into the war, Justus Doenecke’s Nothing Less Than War is an excellent read. If you pick it up now, you will be following the events almost in real time with the 100th anniversaries of the events discussed.

100 Years Ago Today: LUSITANIA IS SUNK BY A GERMAN MINE

To begin, I’d like to apologize for the radio silence coming from my blog. Finishing out my senior year and completing my thesis took precedence in the last few months. Also, in March and April of 1915, the Gettysburg Times tracked the war, but not in any great detail. Here is what you missed while I was away:

April 17: “PAVED WITH GERMAN SKULLS” Discussing the situation at Neuve Chappelle, the Times relayed horror stories of body-choked trenches, further implanting in American minds that the war in the trenches was a terrifying ordeal.

April 24: “SOLDIERS BECOME FATALISTS IN WAR: Sure They are either “in luck” or “under a fated star”” A fascinating third page information piece, especially for anyone familiar with the work of Alex Watson, details soldier psyche and the experience of coping with long range barrages from unseen enemies. Noting the randomness of death, the article states, “if they escape from a pitched battle a spent ball or a fragment of shell will get them the following day, miles behind the trenches, while they are in apparent security.” Fatalism became a way to cope with combat and continue to fight until the fated shell appeared.

May 3 & 4: “GERMAN SUBMARINE TORPEDOES U.S. SHIP” & “FOUR MORE NEUTRAL SHIPS ARE SUNK” As I alluded to in an earlier post, for Americans, the year 1915 became about shipping, submarines and neutrality.  Americans were already on edge by May 7, when the horrific capabilities of industrialized warfare could be further demonstrated by the sinking of the Lusitania.

Sketch from the London Times. Wikimedia Commons.

Sketch from the London Times. Wikimedia Commons.

The Times misidentified the cause of sinking, stating a mine had sunk the vessel, but nonetheless, public reaction was shock. Over 1,000 of  1,900 civilians on board were drown off the coast of Ireland. In response, Germany celebrated the event as a blow to the Allies and struck a commemorative medal. Although a cliche of the American experience of the war, the deliberate sinking of a non-combatant vessel drastically shifted the way Gettysburgians viewed the war. The Times began to use words like “evil” and “slaughter” to portray the actions of the German military where it had been impartial before. Although it did not bring American into the war, the Lusitania sinking had profound impact on what Americans thought about the war and how it was being fought.

German commemorative medal. Wikimedia Commons.

German commemorative medal. Wikimedia Commons.

100 Years Ago Today: TURKS SLAY REFUGEES

100 years ago today, The Gettysburg Times ran a second page article about a massacre of Armenians at the missionary compound in Urumiah, Persia (modern-day Urmia, Iran). The article reported that Turkish forces beat and insulted American missionaries before going on to kill Armenian Christians who had taken refuge at the mission. Gettysburg heard about the massacres through the American consul in Tabriz, Gordon Paddock. Paddock would continue to transmit messages throughout the genocide, keeping Americans aware that these acts were happening.

Armenian Widows and Children. LC-DIG-ggbain-21141

Armenian Widows and Children. LC-DIG-ggbain-21141

Armenian Refugee Children headed for Greece. LC-USZ62-93055

Armenian Refugee Children headed for Greece. LC-USZ62-93055

The Armenian Genocide (some use the term massacres since “genocide” was not coined until the Second World War) of 1915 remains a deeply controversial and contested event in the legacy of the war. There is overwhelming evidence to prove that it happened; in 1915, Turkish forces systematically began forced removals of Armenians and organized an effective killing operation that annihilated 1 million out of 1.8 million Armenians in less than a year.* However, in an act of purposeful historical forgetfulness, the newly created Turkish government that succeeded the Ottoman Empire in 1918 refuses to acknowledge that it happened. The current Turkish narrative is the Armenian population present within the Ottoman Empire was deemed a security threat and thus forced to move. In the course of relocation, some Armenians died. This narrative utterly disregards historical reality. 1 million out of 1.8 million dead is not an unfortunate accident.

Armenian Refugees waiting for work, Marsavan. LC-USZ62-139333

Armenian Refugees waiting for work, Marsavan. LC-USZ62-139333

In recent news, Armenians have been actively seeking recognition for the genocide of their ancestors. Although the Vatican remains officially neutral on the issue, Pope Francis called the event the “gravest crime of Ottoman Turkey.” On March 7 of this year, an Armenian delegation went to the Vatican to seek a more official recognition of the genocide. Since 2009, the Armenian Diaspora has been seeking the official recognition of the Obama administration. As of yet, there has not been an international recognition of the genocide for fear of upsetting current relations with Turkey. March marks the beginning of the centenary of the Armenian genocide, anticipate the event to be in current events. The contemporary issues surrounding the Armenian genocide of 1915 demonstrate the First World War’s continued legacy on the 21st century world.

This disturbing photograph, taken in 1919, demonstrates continued killing beyond the 1915 massacres was originally captioned: "The Turks' bag of game: This picture shows that the Turks, in the remote districts of Aisa Monor [i.e. Asia Minor] beyond the reach of the protecting hand of the Allies, have continued their policy of the slaughter of the Armenian Christians after the signing of the armistice. The massacre of the forty shown in the picture, which has just been received in this country, occurred in February 1919."  LC-DIG-ds-01042

This disturbing photograph, taken in 1919, demonstrates continued killing beyond the 1915 massacres. Originally captioned: “The Turks’ bag of game: This picture shows that the Turks, in the remote districts of Aisa Monor [i.e. Asia Minor] beyond the reach of the protecting hand of the Allies, have continued their policy of the slaughter of the Armenian Christians after the signing of the armistice. The massacre of the forty shown in the picture, which has just been received in this country, occurred in February 1919.”
LC-DIG-ds-01042

*For further reading, see:

Alan Kramer, Dynamic of Destruction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007)

Chapter Two in Stephane Audoin-Rouzeau and Annette Becker, 14-18: Understanding the Great War (New York: Hill and Wang, 2002)

Michael Neiberg, Fighting the Great War: A Global History (Harvard University Press, 2006)

The Future of the Field: Globalising and Localising the Great War Conference

This weekend, I got the whirlwind opportunity to attend a conference at Oxford University titled Globalising and Localising the Great War and present my research on the town of Gettysburg. The conference and wider project affiliated with it seek to expand First World War studies in ways that analyze the ramifications of an international war on local populations. This project is so valuable because people often relate with huge historical events through personal experiences. People remember where they were and what they were doing during particular times because it is a way of tying oneself into history. For example, remembering exactly where I was when the Twin Towers fell on 9/11 and having a close friend deployed to Afghanistan is the way I have tied myself to the global historical events I am living through. Paper topics sought to find tangible experiences like my example for the Great War generation, spanning the globe and engaging various historical approaches. Topics included: humor in French Great War literature, the use of local forces in the Palestine campaign, news coverage in Malta, artistic choices in soldier cemetery architecture, impacts of the war on the Nigerian cocoa industry, and the way Burmese oil forced the British Admiralty to revolutionize naval policy. I was impressed and encouraged by the width and breadth of the topics. If this conference is any indicator, the field seems to be moving into interesting directions, finally pulling itself out of Flanders mire and engaging the war through creative angles and multiple fronts.

Through the papers, one began to see the ways in which the war enveloped culture across the globe. Gettysburgians confronted by daily realities of a militarized home front, London working class people attending the Old Vic theater to hear Shakespeare plays infused with British nationalism while zeppelin bombs fell outside, Maltese people suffering from lack of bread, an export boom of Burmese oil for British ships and a devastating collapse of the British African cocoa industry leaving thousands unemployed demonstrate tangible realities for people living in central and peripheral regions of the world. Soldier cemeteries incorporating aspects of old trench lines served as familiar reminders to living veterans of the physical spaces where they had fought. In direct and indirect ways, millions of soldiers and civilians were hugely impacted by the war. In many cases, the war time experiences of certain regions felt repercussions for decades and shaped the rest of the twentieth century through the lens of those experiences.

The true success of the conference was its ability to show the earth-shaking impacts of the war not only in terms of military involvement, but also in logistics, industry, culture, and society.

My mentor, Dr. Isherwood, and I outside the History Faculty at Oxford University

My mentor, Dr. Isherwood, and I outside the History Faculty at Oxford University