The little town of Noyon took quite a beating.

Brushed With Mystery

I almost lost the trail on this photo. The name is written so badly on the back (sorry great-granddad) that I almost gave up.  I originally thought it said ‘Lyon,’ and then ‘Nayon’.

Now that I have found the accurate name, I have found a myriad of resources that I would love to research.  There are quite a few of you that look here for new resources, and I don’t want to delay in sharing something to whet your appetite.

Noyon was captured by the Germans in 1914, and held until 1918, when the Allies recaptured it. Most of the sources I have found are primary resources: diaries and letters-  they are amazing in their own detail.  I could spend weeks just researching them to get a better feel of the location and the people that lived- and died there.

There is one, and possibly two resources I would love…

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A rave review of “Forgotten Victory” by Gary Sheffield.

Daly History Blog

Going against a commonly-held perception is perhaps the greatest challenge that faces any historian. Some things in history are just so taken for granted that they are held as unassailable truths. As one of the fell0w-students on my degree course stated once, memorably, ‘Henry VIII was just a fat bloke who ate chicken’. Run against such a ‘historical truth’, and you runk the risk of being desricbed as a revisionist as best, and at worst a charlatan. In this book Gary Sheffield treads a very careful and well-reasoned path. Our understanding of the First World War is choc full of myths and misconceptions. Sheffield sequentially and convincingly deals with many of the inaccuracies that have become ingrained in national consciousness. National Consciousness, as Sheffield enlightens us, does tend to pull historical events out of their context.

Perhaps the biggest myth that Sheffield deals with is that of the ‘

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So this is what it’s like to go out on patrol!

Soldiers' Mail

Somewhere in France

Dearest sister Madaline

I haven’t written you in such a terrible long time it looks as if I have forgotten you but it isn’t so the reason was on account of being in the line.  I spent fourteen long days in the line and therefore you see my letter is going to be long and interesting.  Well dear sister after you read what I have to say you will notice that it was not only my praying but also yours and the gift of god.  God surely was with me and I can honestly say that I am the luckiest man on two feet to be where I am today.  Of course dear sister a man when writing gets an opportunity to exaggerate things but everything I am writing is so true that it would be impossible to exaggerate a single thing.

Well we started for the…

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I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier

From a WWI-era advertisement

A recent article in the News Guardian has stirred discussion again in the World War I online community about underage soldiers.  Tens of thousands of underage soldiers served in every army during the First World War.  It’s true that as the war ground on, all the belligerents grew desperate for fresh troops, and some of them were very fresh faces.

Here’s a young German:

Photo taken from drakegoodman on

And here’s a young Brit:

Somebody tell me these babies are not combat soldiers.

This is not really a poilu wearing a captured helmet, just a little French kid wearing someone else’s souvenir:

A French child wears a helmet taken from collection posted at by Peter Laurent

This young fellow enlisted at age 17 by persuading a recruiter that there was no such thing as a birth certificate where he came from.

He not only survived the war, he survived nearly everyone else:  The baby face belongs to Frank Buckles, America’s Last Doughboy, who died one year ago today, at the age of 110.

Week 6: “A Bitter Truth”

I’ve never been a fan of Charles Todd’s mysteries.  His (well, THEIR — Charles Todd is a writing duo) primary series, about the haunted Inspector Rutledge, is too stylized for my taste. And as with other WWI-related series, if you start after the war, unless time stretches like taffy, your character will be dragged through the ’20s and toward the Nazis. Jacqueline Winstead’s Maisie Dobbs has finally shaken hands with the Evil Empire — it’s 1933 in her new book, “Elegy for Eddie,” due out in March.

I don’t like Nazis.

Charles Todd’s other series, about nurse Bess Crawford, is only up to 1917. However, I took a decided dislike to the second book, “An Impartial Witness,” which hinges on Bess’ apparent ability to read minds.

You might wonder why I bother myself with an author whose work I so criticize. Simple answer: I will read virtually anything about the war.

Anyway, here we come to Bess Crawford #3, “A Bitter Truth.” Good job, Charles Todd! It made for a fine afternoon.  The characters were distinct, their actions logical, and the two-pronged plot was intriguing. I actually got so interested in the French drama that I forgot about the murder. Now I’m looking forward to the next Bess Crawford, “An Unmarked Grave,” coming in June.

The Battle of Verdun

'The ruins of Verdun , 1916', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage)

It began Feb. 21, 1916, and killed nearly 700,000 Germans and Frenchmen by the time it ended in December.

Here are the attackers:

And here the defenders:

The pretty little city that is modern-day Verdun:

Week 5: “Mopping Up! With the PPCLI”

The first thing to know about “Mopping Up! With the PPCLI” might be the one thing that turns you off:

It was written by a dog.

Bobbie Burns was a collie belonging to Lt. Jack Munroe of the Princess Pats. Bobbie was a regimental mascot who, though he remained behind the lines, manages to recount his master’s adventures, from the declaration of war that took the two out of their northwoods home in Ontario and the discharge from hospital that let them return.

Spoiler: It’s not the dog that gets hurt.

The conceit is whimsical and the writing effusive in the extreme, but it’s also a clear account of what the Pats did, where they went and the intensity of the battles they faced. I would read this alongside Agar Adamson’s letters — editor Norm Christie gives context to Bobbie’s account and explains who the players are as they come up in the narrative.

Here’s a sample of the writing:

“It was such an upheaval as must occur when, through a convulsion of nature, new lands, vomited from the deeps, are thrown upward above raging waters.”

This goes on for three pages. I have never read a more evocative description of bombardment from the point of view of the defenders.

“Mopping Up!” is a wonderful memoir, even though it is extremely biased against the Hun and in favor of Canada, Canada, Canada. And even though it’s written by a dog.