Passchendaele: The beginning

From our Facebook friend Wipers: A Soldier’s Tale From the Great War, written by Jeff Simmons:

If there were a battle that summarized the pain and suffering of the common foot soldier, it would be the Third Battle of Ypres, better known as Passchendaele. Unlike the first two battles of Ypres, this time it was the Allies making the push; they jumped off this day, 1917.

Hell was truly on the horizon. In “A Short History of World War I,” historian James Stokesbury says “Even the soil was bad. Soil may not be thought to be of much importance in military operations, but it is one of the supreme conditions of a soldier’s life, as he has to spend a great deal of his time digging in it, putting it in sandbags, and moving it from this spot to that spot.” The soil at Ypres was gooey clay, which when wet, turns into a clingy ooze. The heavy fighting in that flat, low-lying stretch of front had destroyed all of the dikes and waterways that controlled flooding, so rain meant misery.

The objective of Gen. Douglas Haig’s brilliant offensive was to break the German line in the northwest side of the Ypres salient. Gen. Plumer’s successful mining campaign at Messines just down the line improved the possibility of pulling off this maneuver, although the right flank of the attack would still be up one of those little molehills they call ridges in Flanders. Once the troops achieved this breakthrough, they would hook up with an amphibious landing in Belgium, then cut off and surround Germany’s flank as well as its U-boat bases. Sounds like a pretty good plan…but like so many plans, there were problems, mainly rain and a 13-day artillery barrage that had churned the soil into muck. The soldiers were expected to advance through this. A good number of attacking soldiers actually drowned on the battlefield.

In the end, the British did end up taking some land. The distance of the drive, however, cost them one man for every inch gained.

The only good thing I see coming out of this is that it sped up the notion that the old way of fighting just didn’t work (wow, now THERE’S a news flash!) Somehow, someway, the era of siege warfare needed to end, and a strategy to get into a war of movement was essential.



Men of a Yorkshire regiment moving up the line. National Library of Scotland photo.

 Jeff is the author of  the novel “Wipers: A Soldier’s Tale from the Great War”

A Great War Olympics report

As of this writing, host country the UK had won three Olympic medals, one silver (cyclist Lizzie Armistead) and two bronze (the men’s gymnastic team and swimmer Becky Adlington in the 400 meter freestyle). The U.S. has 17, a tie with China.

Among the other belligerents in World War I are:

Italy, 8 medals

France, 7

Russia, 5

Australia, 4

Austria/Hungary, 0/3

Belgium 1

Canada, 1

Germany, 1

Serbia, 1

Turkey, 0 (so far)

Britain’s most noted Olympian for those of us interested in the First World War, was Lieutenant General Sir Philip Neame (VC, KBE, CB, DSO, Chevalier Legion d’Honneur, Croix de Guerre). Neame won a gold medal at the Paris 1924 Olympics — the only VC ever to have won Olympic gold. Neame was part of the four-man team that beat Norway and Sweden in the running deer team competition.

My fellow Americans, this was not a running event. Nor were any actual deer involved. It was a shooting competition.

Here’s a link about Philip Neame from the Kent County Council — he lived in Kent — that describes his Olympic adventure:

And here’s an account of his war adventure:

Two other British Olympians involved in the war were:

Captain Noel Chavasse (VC and bar, MC) RAMC, who represented Great Britain in the 400 metres at the London 1908 Olympics. Noel and his brother Christopher also competed in the 4 x 400 metre relay at the games. Noel Chavasse died of wounds near Ypres in August 1917.

Here’s a link to his story:

Brigadier General Paul Aloysius Kenna (VC, DSO), awarded the VC for his actions in Sudan in 1898. He was selected to lead the GB Show-jumping Team at the Stockholm 1912 Olympics. Kenna was killed at Gallipoli on 30 August 1915 and is buried in Lala Baba Cemetery. He was 53.

Here’s Kenna, looking smudged: Image

P.S. Aerial propaganda

From WW1HA president Steve Suddaby:

My research in French aerial bombing has turned up a number of references to dropping propaganada leaflets. The 1st Groupe de Bombardement (GB1) dropped leaflets in German-held areas a number of times during night raids from May to September 1917. They mentioned numbers as high as 12,000 or 16,000 leaflets dropped in a single night in addition to, say, 200 bombs. Sometimes they described it by weight — 5 kg of leaflets.

At least some of the time during this period, they were distributing statements by President Wilson.

Here’s a post about French bombers by W.I. Boucher, blogging at World War I Aviation Illustration:

This photo of a Voisin III is from the postcard collection of drakegoodman, who posts his photos on

1917 remembered in Metz museum — corrected

The modern art museum Centre Pompidou-Metz has an exhibition you might wish to see: “!917” is a collection of works on the theme of creativity during wartime.

Here’s a description of the exhibit’s catalog:

“The catalogue for 1917 is the sixth to be published by the Centre Pompidou-Metz.

“Whereas the exhibition addresses its subject thematically, the 600 pages and 1,070 illustrations of the catalogue adopt a complementary approach in three parts, namely a series of essays, a dictionary, and a journal for the year.

“In part one, three essays by historians and art historians shed a general light on the year 1917. The second part takes the form of a dictionary of 1917, comprising 225 concise bibliographic and thematic entries on the people, events, places, disciplines, culture, art and ordinary life that ‘made’ the year. This part is illustrated by many of the works and documents in the exhibition.

“Part three, a journal for the year, uses the then popular almanac form, with two brief introductions on image literacy.

“Each day is represented by a calendar and a timeline of military, diplomatic, political and cultural events, and is illustrated by documents available to the public in 1917, such as posters and magazines.

“The catalogue cover and the exhibition’s graphic identity overall are inspired by the camouflage of Texas, a cargo ship requisitioned in the First World War.”

You can buy the catalog from Amazon here:

Among the pieces in the exhibit is the front curtain Picasso painted for the ballet “Parade,” performed by the Ballet Russes in Paris in 1917. Picasso also designed the Cubist costumes, including a horse that had a mannequin rider, which fell off during dress rehearsal. Everyone laughed; that was the last of the horse. The story was by Jean Cocteau, music by Eric Satie and choreography by Leonid Massine. The audience didn’t like it.

To see photos of the costumes, some of which were 10 feet tall, check out the blog at

Metz is a city in Lorraine that was lost to the Germans in the Franco-Prussian War. Eagerness to retrieve it gave France strong motivation to enter World War I.

Here’s the cathedral in Metz in 1916:


The Battle of Fromelles

That battle, which resulted in 5,500 Australian casualties, began on this night in 1916.

Here’s a link to our Storify page:

and here’s a detailed account of the battle:

And here’s the gorgeous poster from our Facebook friend Our Fromelles Obsession.



At the going down of the sun

And in the morning,

We will remember them.


A little light reading

Collectors are amazing — sometimes they latch onto what seems a useless bit of memorabilia, and the next thing you know, their basements are stuffed and a bit of history is saved.

Members of the PsyWar Society collect propaganda leaflets that were dropped on enemy troops and civilians. The leaflets usually say something like, “Don’t shoot, or you’ll be sorry!” or “We’re coming to save you from tyranny!” or “Buy War Bonds” — the Royal Flying Corps dropped leaflets on Britain promoting sales of bonds and savings certificates. has posted an official British report written by a military intelligence officer in 1918 that reads in part:

“It cannot be said that there is any evidence as to the efficacy of German propaganda amongst the British troops. Samples of it are sent over from G.H.Q., France and examined by M.I.7.B. They consist of flysheets in bad English announcing German successes on other fronts, pictures of the happy fate of prisoners of war in Germany, boasts of the results of the U-boat campaign and copies of the Continental Times. … From a propagandist point of view, (material directed at the French) is much more unscrupulous and probably more effective than our Courrier, but this is due to the fact that a special effort has been made to exclude ‘inflammatory’ matter from the Courrier. Were a suitable method of distribution in operation, the Courrier could very easily be greatly strengthened from the propagandist point of view. It is of interest, however, to note, that even in its present mild form it is of comfort to the Belgians. A letter written from Brussels in May 1917 contains the remark ‘Shall I tell you that the rare appearance of an Allied Airman sufficed to gladden us for several days, such simple visits showing the population that the Belgians outside do not forget those at home. What would it be if periodically they came to give us precise, certain, authentic news’. That at least the Courrier has dome for those parts of Belgium it reaches.”

You might think that none of the leaflets were in existence anymore, since most of them ended up in the trash just like those pizza parlor coupons that get attached to your front door every week, whether you want them or not. But PsyWar Society members collect them, and the organization produces a quarterly magazine, Falling Leaves, for collectors and researchers. Here’s the link:

Here’s the link to an interesting article about German propaganda leaflets:

Prisoners of war were a popular subject for all types of propaganda. They had two messages:

Look how well we treat prisoners — wouldn’t it be a relief to surrender?


You might as well surrender — these guys all did!

These are Germans captured by the British.


A real-life Joey and Albert duo

The Brisbane Times has an interesting story today — I think it’s now yesterday in Australia — about a man and his horse who went to Gallipoli together. Only one came home:

“Shot by snipers at Gallipoli in May 1915, Major-General Sir William Bridges was bleeding to death in a hospital ship when he reportedly asked that his beloved horse Sandy be sent back to Australia.”

Sandy was returned to Australia in 1918 — the only one to come home of the 6,100 horses sent to Gallipoli.


A family’s grief


Paul Reed photo.

Paul Reed, blogging as Sommecourt, posted this photo with the sad story behind it at

His other Somme site presents the battlefields as they are today — a temptation for the traveler or armchair traveler. Reed wrote the well-regarded book “Walking the Somme: 2ed” ( Pen & Sword, $24.95). Here’s the link:

A 78 r.p.m. interlude

Simon Rees, blogging at Historical Eye, dedicates his World War I posts to his great-grandfather Alf Adams, who was a machine gunner and was killed in 1917 in the Gavrelle-Oppy sector, near Vimy. Before the war, Adams had a record company that produced 78 r.p.m. records.

At one of his other blogs, Simon links to a recording produced by the Coliseum Record Co. Listen to this:

To read more about British recording companies of the era, click:

Here’s the link to Simon’s posts about his great-grandfather:


“Oppy Wood, 1917,” by John Nash. Imperial War Museum.