Commemorating the First World War Centennial in Kansas

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Memorials to the Missing – Vimy

The Canadian National Vimy Memorial is situated about five miles from Arras, France in a 250 acre park that is considered sovereign Canadian territory. The park is operated and maintained by Veteran’s Affairs Canada rather than by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The ridge is an escarpment seven miles long and 475 feet above sea level at the highest point. more

The Canadians Capture Vimy Ridge

We salute our Canadian friends for this great accomplishment of Canadian arms one hundred years age. In a previous post about Notre Dame de Lorette I mentioned that the French Colonial Corps failed in several attempts to capture the  Vimy Ridge escarpment  in 1915. The newly-constituted Canadian Corps, using a mixture of technical and tactical innovation, meticulous planning, powerful artillery support and extensive training, drove the Germans off of the ridge in four days of fighting. This was a part of the British Arras offensive which was supposed to be a diversion from the French Nivelle or Chemin des Dames offensive to the east.  Ironically, the Arras offensive was, by the standards of the day, a big success while the Nivelle offensive was a colossal failure. You can read more about this here. more

Engineering on the Western Front

The Durand Group was founded by two Royal Engineers, Lt Col Philip Robinson and Lt Col Mike Watkins, following their experience removing several undetonated mines at Vimy Ridge. The group continues to be the premier engineering firm regarding for this kind of work, and with its charitable foundation has also undertaken extensive underground archeological exploration. You can visit their website by clicking here. more

Butchers and Blunderers

In the years following the First World War, terms like the above title were frequently used to describe the military leadership. To many it still seems such an obvious question: with so many failed offensives with horrendous casualties, why didn’t the man in charge get the sack? Well, some did. Here’s a list. more

Memorials to the Missing – Le Touret and Sir John French

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) Le Touret Memorial to the Missing is located in the cemetery of the same name near Richebourg, Pas-de-Calais, France. The memorial is a loggia surrounding an open rectangular court that dominates the eastern side of the site. The names of those commemorated are listed on panels set into the walls of the court and the gallery, arranged by regiment, rank and alphabetically by surname within the rank. The memorial was dedicated in 1930 and was designed by John Reginald Truelove (1886 – 1942), a protégé of Sir Edwin Lutyens, who had served as an officer with the 1st Battalion 24th County of London Regiment (The Queen’s). He also created the Vis-en-Artois Memorial to the Missing for the CWGC.

The entrances bear the following inscription in English and French:

To the Glory of God and in Memory of 13,482 British officers and men who fell fighting in this neighbourhood from October 1914 to September 1915 whose names are here recorded but to whom the fortune of war denied the known and honoured burial given to their comrades in death.

Indian Army missing are commemorated on the Neuve Chapelle Memorial and the Canadians on the Vimy Ridge Memorial.

The Le Touret cemetery has 912 individual burials original to the period, and it formerly had 264 Portuguese burials until these were relocated by their government.

The Memorial covers the period of these sectors, battles and actions:

La Bassée: October 10th – November 2nd 1914
The Defence of Festubert & Givenchy: November-December 1914
Cuinchy & First Givenchy: January-March 1915
Neuve Chapelle: March 10th – 13th 1915
Aubers Ridge: May 9th, 1915
Festubert: May 15th – 25th, 1915
Givenchy: June-September 1915 more

Centennial Countdown to the Great War: July 1917

It’s July 1917, three years since another July spun the world into global war.  A major Russian offensive ends in defeat, retreat, and massive demonstrations in the streets of Petrograd, forcing a change in the revolutionary government.  A political upheaval in Germany leads to the resignation of Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg and Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann.  King George V visits the British Army on the Western Front.  While he is there German bombers attack London; when he returns he changes the name of the Royal Family.  In the Near East, Arab tribes led by Lawrence of Arabia capture the important Red Sea port of Aqaba.  Winston Churchill rejoins the British Cabinet as Minister of Munitions.  The British Army begins another major offensive at Ypres.  An American Army battalion marches through Paris and visits Lafayette’s tomb.  A large convoy of American troops arrives safely in France after a crossing contested by German U-boats.  An accidental explosion sinks a dreadnought at Scapa Flow.  In the United States the Secretary of War sets up a system of press censorship, then backs down in the face of fierce criticism.  General Pershing says he wants a three million man Army by 1919.  Compulsory military service begins as the first numbers are drawn in the draft lottery.  Exports are prohibited without a license.  Race riots explode in East St. Louis.

Government Troops Firing on Demonstrators on the Nevsky Prospect

The month began with a major offensive by the Russian Army in Galicia which, after initial success, was driven back by German counterattacks.  As the Army’s morale collapsed and its retreat became a rout, unrest in Petrograd and other major cities intensified.  In spontaneous demonstrations, later joined by the Bolsheviks, workers and soldiers poured into the streets on July 16 (July 3 on the Russian calendar) to protest the the Provisional Government and its continuation of the war.   Two days later General Brusilov was relieved as Commander-in-Chief of the Army, replaced by General Lavr Kornilov, Commander of the Petrograd garrison.  On July 21, Prince Lvov was replaced as Prime Minister by Alexander Kerensky, who continued as Minister of War.  Two days later the Council of Workmen’s and Soldiers’ Delegates voted to give Kerensky unlimited powers for the reestablishment of public order.  Kerensky has appealed for public support, sending troops to put down the uprising, which he claims is the work of German agents.  In a statement to the press he said he will “save Russia and Russian unity by blood and iron, if argument and reason, honor and conscience, are not sufficient.”  In the ensuing crackdown the Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky has been imprisoned and Vladimir Lenin has fled to Finland.

Matthias Erzberger

Germany has a new government.  On July 6, Matthias Erzberger, the leader of the Center Party, rose in the Reichstag and made a controversial peace proposal.  Outlining the country’s military weakness, he argued that Germany should attempt to make peace on the basis of a renunciation of all territorial ambitions and a return to the pre-war status quo.  When a peace resolution incorporating Erzberger’s proposals passed the Reichstag on July 19, Generals Hindenburg and Ludendorff threatened to resign, forcing the resignation of Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg and Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann.  The new Chancellor, Georg Michaelis, has refused to consider any peace initiative, saying “I do not consider that a body like the German Reichstag is a fit one to decide about peace and war on its own initiative during the war.”  There is little doubt that Hindenburg and Ludendorff are now firmly in control of German war policy.

The King on the Western Front

From July 3 to 14, King George V, accompanied by the Prince of Wales, visited British troops on the western front.  Accompanied by General Sir Herbert Plumer, he explored the battlefields where his Army had struggled a year earlier in its offensive on the River Somme.  Then he climbed the heights of Messines Ridge and Vimy Ridge, recently occupied by British forces.

The Royal Family

Anti-German sentiment has been building in Great Britain for some time, and the Royal Family’s German name, Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, has become something of an embarrassment.  Making matters worse, Gotha bombers began attacking London earlier this year, and while the King was in France the largest raid of the year killed thirty-seven Londoners.  On July 17, shortly after his return to England, the King issued a Royal Proclamation announcing that “We, out of our Royal Will and Authority, do hereby declare and announce that as from the date of this Our Royal Proclamation Our House and Family shall be styled and known as the House and Family of Windsor.”  The new name is widely popular.  When the change was announced, the Times stated approvingly that “the King could not have chosen a more appropriate name for his Royal House than that of Windsor, which . . . has been associated longer than any other Royal residence with the fortunes and the lives of the Kings and Queens of England.”  At the same time, the King revoked the British titles held by members of the Royal Family who are fighting for Germany.

Major Lawrence in Cairo

Prince Faisal with Lawrence after the Capture of Aqaba

Since October of last year British Army Major T. E. Lawrence has been in the Hejaz, encouraging and advising Arab tribes loyal to Prince Faisal who are in rebellion against Ottoman rule.  On July 6, Arab forces accompanied by Lawrence attacked and seized the Red Sea port of Aqaba, a Turkish stronghold at the northern end of the Gulf of Aqaba, which marks the eastern boundary of the Sinai Peninsula.  Lawrence then journeyed across the Sinai desert to the Suez Canal and on to the headquarters of the British Egyptian Expeditionary Force in Cairo.  There he informed General Edmund Allenby in person of the capture of Aqaba and gained commitments for additional British support for the rebelling Arab tribes.  The capture of Aqaba provides the British with a valuable supply port and base of operations in support of Prince Faisal’s rebel forces operating against the Turks.

H.M.S. Vanguard

On the night of July 9 in the Royal Navy’s anchorage in Scapa flow, a mysterious explosion destroyed the dreadnought battleship H.M.S. Vanguard, a veteran of the Battle of Jutland. The ship sank almost instantly, killing over 800 British sailors.

Churchill Speaking at Chelmsford Last September

Winston Churchill, the former First Lord of the Admiralty, was excluded from the coalition government formed by Prime Minister Asquith in May 1915 as the failure of the Dardanelles campaign was becoming apparent.  Churchill served in the minor Cabinet position of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster until November 1915, when he resigned from the Cabinet to join the Army on the Western Front.  He commanded a battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers near Ploegsteert until March 1916, when he returned to Westminster and resumed his seat in Parliament as an opposition back-bencher while defending his conduct of the Dardanelles campaign and participating in the proceedings of the Dardanelles Committee of Enquiry.  The new Prime Minister David Lloyd George is an admirer of Churchill’s, and on July 17 of this year, despite the opposition of several other members of the Government, he brought Churchill into the Cabinet as Minister of Munitions, the post formerly held by Lloyd George himself.  As British constitutional practice requires when a member of Parliament joins the cabinet, Churchill returned to his constituency to seek reelection, and on July 29 the electors of Dundee returned him to Parliament.  He will take his seat on the Government bench on August 1.  As part of the same Cabinet reorganization, Sir Eric Campbell Geddes will replace Sir Edward Carson as First Lord of the Admiralty and Edwin Samuel Montagu will become Secretary of State for India, the post held until recently by Austen Chamberlain.

General Gough

On the last day of July, following a two-week artillery barrage that surpassed in intensity even the one that preceded last year’s Somme offensive, an Allied army under the command of British General Sir Hubert Gough launched another offensive in the Ypres Salient.  The objective is the capture of the important railway junction at Roulers.  The attack, strongly advocated by General Sir Douglas Haig, was finally approved by the British War Policy Committee despite opposition from French Generals Foch and Petain and serious reservations voiced by the Prime Minister and shared by the new Minister of Munitions, Winston Churchill.

Pershing at Lafayette’s Tomb

The first American troops to arrive in Europe are about to commence training.  A battalion was in Paris on July 4, and all Paris turned out to greet them in an Independence Day parade celebrating American entry into the war.  American flags flew from public buildings, hotels, residences, taxicabs and carts, and American flag pins decorated horses’ bridles and pedestrians’ lapels.  The Republican Guard Band executed a field reveille beneath General Pershing’s windows at 8:00 a.m. and accompanied him through throngs of spectators to the Invalides, where American troops were drawn up with a detachment of French Territorials at the Court of Honor.  In the chapel before the tomb of Napoleon President Poincare presented Pershing with American flags and banners.  The Americans then passed in review before Poincare, Marshal Joffre and other dignitaries to the strains of “The Star Spangled Banner” and the “Marseillaise” and shouts of “Vive les Americains! Vive Pershing! and Vivent les Etats Unis!”  The parade continued across the Alexander III Bridge to the Place de la Concorde, then down the Rue de Rivoli past the Tuileries Gardens to the tomb of the Marquis de Lafayette at Picpus Cemetery, near the Place de la Nation.  In a brief ceremony Lt. Col. Charles E. Stanton of the General’s staff delivered a speech that ended as he turned to the tomb and announced “Lafayette, we are here!”

Secretary Daniels

On July 3 Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels announced “with the joy of a great relief . . . the safe arrival in France of every fighting man and every fighting ship.”  He revealed that the transports carrying American troops and supplies had been twice attacked by German submarines, which had been beaten off by the U.S. Naval escorts.  One of the U-boats was reported sunk and the other damaged and possibly destroyed.

In a proclamation dated July 9, exercising powers granted under the Espionage Act, President Wilson forbade all exports of food, fuel and war supplies without a license issued by the Exports Council, the agency he created last month by executive order.  The proclamation took effect July 15.

Secretary of War Baker

On the Fourth of July, news organizations in the United States learned of an order of Secretary of War Newton D. Baker that all dispatches from correspondents in France to news organizations in the United States were to be diverted to the War Department before being delivered to their addressees.  The Associated Press was informed that a dispatch sent from France was in the possession of the Committee on Public Information, of which George Creel is the Chairman, and that the Associated Press could have it if it sent for it.  Upon further inquiry, it was learned that any cable addressed to an American newspaper would be sent to the War Department and turned over to the Creel Committee which would have men on duty capable of promptly reviewing and censoring the dispatch.  Remarkably, the War Department assumed this authority despite the decision of Congress in considering the Espionage Act to deny the President the censorship power he had requested on the ground that it would violate the Constitutional guarantee of freedom of the press.  The reaction to the War Department’s order in Congress and the press was immediate. A three-column headline at the top of the front page of the next day’s New York Times read “Baker Seizes News Dispatches, Ignoring Congress and Constitution.”  That day Mr. Creel presided over a meeting of the Committee on Public Information at which Secretary Baker, Secretary of the Navy Daniels and Secretary of State Robert Lansing were also present.  After the meeting it was announced that the emergency on account of which the order had been issued (presumably the arrival of American troops in France) having passed, the order would be revoked.

Secretary Baker Draws the First Draft Number

General Pershing has estimated that the American war effort will require a one million man Army by 1918 and three million by 1919.  The new selective service law is the principal means of achieving those goals.  The draft began on July 20 with a ceremonial drawing of the first numbers in the Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill.  The lottery was organized and supervised by Provost Marshal General Enoch Crowder and Adjutant General Henry P. McCain.  At 9:32 a.m. Secretary of War Baker gave a brief speech, then after being blindfolded inserted his hand into a glass bowl filled with numbers written on slips of paper.  He drew number 258, meaning that registrants assigned that number in each of the 4,557 Selective Service Registration Districts will be among the first to be notified to report for duty.  Other dignitaries followed, and the drawing of numbers continued until the early morning hours.  In all over ten thousand numbers were drawn.

An East St. Louis Mob Stopping a Streetcar

Race riots broke out in East St. Louis, Illinois on July 2, fueled mainly by white residents’ anger about importation of black laborers from the South, who are believed to be taking jobs away from white workers, sometimes as strikebreakers. Thousands of white men rampaged through the Negro sections of the city, dragging passengers off streetcars, setting buildings afire and shooting or hanging residents as they tried to flee. Hundreds of African Americans were given refuge at City Hall and the Police Station, and hundreds of the ringleaders were arrested and detained. The state militia was called out and military rule was proclaimed that evening.  Before the riots were brought under control, dozens of men, mostly black men, had been killed and many more injured. The federal government played no role in restoring order. Although staff lawyers in the Department of Justice concluded that there was sufficient basis for federal intervention under the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the Federal Penal Code, Attorney General Gregory told President Wilson on July 27 that “no facts have been presented to us that would justify” any federal action.

July 1917 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading

Contemporary Periodicals:

American Review of Reviews, August and September 1917
New York Times, July 1917

Books and Articles:

Scott Berg, Wilson
Britain at War Magazine, The Fourth Year of the Great War: 1917
Winston S. Churchill, The World Crisis 1911-1918
John Milton Cooper, Jr., Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
John Milton Cooper, Jr., The Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt
John Dos Passos, Mr. Wilson’s War
David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace: Creating the Modern Middle East, 1914-1922
Martin Gilbert, Churchill: A Life
Martin Gilbert, The First World War: A Complete History
Martin Gilbert, A History of the Twentieth Century, Volume One: 1900-1933
Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill Volume IV: The Stricken World 1916-1922
Ann Hagedorn, Savage Peace, Hope and Fear in America, 1919
August Heckscher, Woodrow Wilson: A Biography \
Godfrey Hodgson, Woodrow Wilson’s Right Hand: The Life of Colonel Edward M. House
Roy Jenkins, Churchill: A Biography
John Keegan, The First World War
David M. Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War and American Society
Ian Kershaw, To Hell and Back: Europe 1914-1949
Nicholas A. Lambert, Planning Armageddon: British Economic Warfare and the First World War
Arthur S. Link, Wilson: Confusions and Crises, 1915-1916
Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era, 1910-1917
Robert K. Massie, Nicholas and Alexandra
G.J. Meyer, A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918
G.J. Meyer, The World Remade: America in World War I
Michael S. Neiberg, The Path to War: How the First World War Created Modern America
Edward J. Renehan Jr., The Lion’s Pride: Theodore Roosevelt and His Family in Peace and War
Jonathan Schneer, The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict
Lee Thompson, Never Call Retreat: Theodore Roosevelt and the Great War
Adam Tooze, The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931
Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History
The West Point Atlas of War: World War I

The following is reprinted from the Centennial Countdown to the Great War  blog published by Dennis Cross. Read the original post and access an archive of previous posts at: more

Memorials to the Missing: Newfoundland Memorial Park

On the 101st anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme it seems appropriate to visit one of its most famous sites. Plus today is also Canada Day.

The Memorial to the Missing at Beaumont-Hamel in France is not maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC). It’s situated in the Newfoundland Memorial Park which is administered by the Canadian Department of Veteran’s Affairs, just like the Vimy Memorial.  However, within the site there are four CWGC cemeteries.

The memorial commemorates 809 Newfoundlanders lost in WW1 who have no known grave. Here’s a fair question: if all of the 11,169 Canadians missing in France are commemorated at Vimy Ridge, why there is a different memorial to just the Newfoundlanders? Here’s a short history lesson:

Beaumont-Hamel List of Names

Founded in 1583, Newfoundland was the Crown’s oldest colony when it was granted Dominion status in 1907 (Confederation with Canada didn’t come until 1949). In August 1914, in response to patriotic urgings, the smallest Dominion stepped up and created the Newfoundland Regiment, and as a Dominion, it was expected to bear all of the costs.

The Newfoundlanders never served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, and the regiment was much too small to form even a brigade, and so it was part of the British 88th Brigade, 29th Division. They served with notable heroism and distinction; on Sept. 28th, 1917 they were designated by King George V as a Royal Regiment, the only regiment to be so honored during the WW1 (only three Royal designations have ever been bestowed during wartime).

They landed at Gallipoli on April 25th, 1915, then went on to their tragic and heroic attack at Beaumont-Hamel on July 1st, 1916, where they lost 680 killed and wounded, including all of the officers, out of an attack strength estimated at 790. Later there was the April 1917 Battle of Arras where they stopped a German counterattack at Monchy-le-Preux, losing 485 men, then they attacked with the tanks at Cambrai in October 1917 and finally in 1918 they helped chase the Germans away from the Ypres Salient.

Caribou at Monchy-le-Preux

About 8,500 Newfoundlanders served in the Great War (the exact number of sailors is unknown), 1,570 were killed or died and 2,314 were wounded.

In 1919, the Royal Newfoundland Regiment’s Catholic Chaplain, Lt. Col. (Hon) the Rev. Thomas Nangle, who had also been designated as the NF Director of Graves Registration and Enquiry and NF’s representative on the Imperial War Graves Commission (IWGC), predecessor of the CWGC, determined to create an impressive set of Newfoundland memorials outside of the IWGC.

His plan had three parts:

  • to honor all who served, a traditional-style war memorial in the center of St. John’s, Newfoundland’s capital, (dedicated on July 1st, 1924 by Field Marshal the Earl Haig);
  • to honor the sacrifices of the Regiment; the acquisition and preservation of the entire Beaumont Hamel battlefield and the erection of six distinctive Caribou statues following ‘the trail of the Caribou’ through every major site where the Newfoundlanders served; and
  • to provide for a brighter future that the fallen would never see, the establishment of the first college.
  • more

    Centennial Countdown to the Great War: April 1917

    Two events in April 1917 foreshadow the superpower alignment of the remainder of the Twentieth Century: the United States enters the Great War, meaning to make the world safe for democracy, and Lenin returns to Russia, intent on leading a Bolshevik revolution.  In Washington, the President’s request for a declaration of war is the first order of business for the newly elected 65th Congress.  War is declared, the Navy is mobilized, German ships in American ports are seized, and suspected German spies are detained.  Congress authorizes a $7 billion war loan, most of the proceeds marked for the nations already fighting Germany.  The president issues a proclamation to the American people, telling them they must “speak, act and serve together” in support of the war effort.  British and French emissaries visit the United States to participate in an International War Council.  Both houses of Congress enact draft legislation.  On the Western Front, an Anglo-French offensive is launched under the command of General Robert Nivelle, the new Commander-in-Chief of the French Army.  The Canadians capture Vimy Ridge, but the offensive as a whole is a costly failure, ending with mutinies in the French Army and the replacement of Nivelle by General Philippe Petain.  In a journey facilitated by the German government, Lenin travels from Zurich to Petrograd’s Finland Station.  Upon arrival, in what would become known as the April Theses, he calls for the overthrow of Russia’s new Provisional Government.

    President Wilson Asks Congress to Declare War Against Germany

    Shortly after 8:30 p.m. on April 2, President Woodrow Wilson strode into the chamber of the House of Representatives and addressed a joint session of the newly elected Congress.  The President had asked for the special session almost two weeks earlier and Congress had convened that morning, but the narrowly divided House of Representatives (215 Republicans, 213 Democrats, three Progressives and one Socialist) had taken all day to organize itself, finally electing the Democratic Leader, Champ Clark of Missouri, to another term as speaker.

    The President, after reviewing the history of Germany’s submarine warfare and its recent removal of restrictions on submarine attacks on passenger and merchant shipping, accused the German government of “throwing to the wind all scruples of humanity [and] of respect for the understandings that were supposed to underlie the intercourse of the world.”  He said he was thinking not of the destruction of property, “immense and serious as that is,” but of “the wanton and wholesale destruction of the lives of noncombatants, men, women, and children, engaged in pursuits which have always, even in the darkest periods of modern history, been deemed innocent and legitimate.”  For that reason, he said, “[t]he present German submarine warfare against commerce is a warfare against mankind.”  Therefore, “there is one choice we cannot make.  We will not choose the path of submission . . .”  At this point, as reported by the New York Times, Supreme Court Chief Justice Edward White, a Confederate veteran of the Civil War, “with an expression of joy and thankfulness on his face, dropped the big soft hat he had been holding, raised his hands high in the air, and brought them together with a heartfelt bang; and House, Senate and galleries followed him with a roar like a storm.”  The President then continued: “. . . and suffer the most sacred rights of our people to be ignored.”

    Declaring that “armed neutrality, it now appears, is impracticable,” President Wilson asked Congress to declare war: “With a profound sense of the solemn and even tragical character of the step I am taking and of the grave responsibilities which it involves, but in unhesitating obedience to what I deem my constitutional duty, I advise that the Congress declare the recent course of the Imperial German Government to be nothing less than war against the Government and people of the United States . . . ”  Again the Chief Justice was on his feet vigorously bringing his hands together over his head.  Behind him, the cheers were led by the President’s fellow Democrats, including Kentucky Senator Ollie James, who last year roused the Democratic Convention to comparable heights of passion with his speech praising President Wilson for keeping the country out of war (see the June 1916 installment of this blog).  When the cheering subsided, the President continued: “. . . that it formally accept the status of belligerent which has thus been thrust upon it; and that it take immediate steps not only to put the country in a more thorough state of defense, but also to exert all its power and employ all its resources to bring the Government of the German Empire to terms and end the war.”

    The President then turned to the practical necessities of the nation’s new belligerent status.  It “will involve the utmost practicable co-operation in counsel and action with the Governments now at war with Germany” and “the extension to those Governments of the most liberal financial credits.”  And more than financial support would be required: he called for “the immediate addition to the armed forces of the United States . . . of at least 500,000 men [to] be chosen upon the principle of universal liability to service” as well as “adequate credits” to be sustained by “well conceived taxation.”

    Emphasizing that “we have no quarrel with the German people,” the President sought to place the nation’s entry into the war upon grounds of humanity and high principle:

    “We are glad, now that we see the facts with no veil of false pretense about them, to fight thus for the ultimate peace of the world and for the liberation of its peoples, the German people included; for the rights of nations, great and small, and the privilege of men everywhere to choose their way of life and of obedience.

    “The world must be made safe for democracy.  Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty.  We have no selfish ends to serve.  We desire no conquest, no dominion.  We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make.  We are but one of the champions of the rights of mankind.  We shall be satisfied when those rights have been made as secure as the faith and the freedom of nations can make them.”

    The address ended with a stirring plea for unity:

    “It is a distressing and oppressive duty, gentlemen of the Congress, which I have performed in thus addressing you.  There are, it may be, many months of fiery trial and sacrifice ahead of us.  It is a fearful thing to lead this great, peaceful people into war, into the most terrible and disastrous of all wars, civilization itself seeming to be in the balance.

    “But the right is more precious than peace, and we shall fight for the things that we have always held nearest our hearts — for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments, for the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free.

    “To such a task we can dedicate our lives and our fortunes, everything that we are and everything that we have, with the pride of those who know that the day has come when America is privileged to spend her blood and her might for the principles that gave her birth and happiness and the peace which she has treasured.

    “God helping her, she can do no other.”

    Senator Hitchcock

    The Senate went first.  Senator William Stone of Missouri is Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, but because he opposed the war resolution the Committee entrusted its management on the Senate floor to the second ranking Democrat, Senator Gilbert Hitchcock of Nebraska.  Senator Hitchcock is a recent and reluctant convert to the pro-war position.  He was considered a pacifist until recently when he decided, near the end of the last Congress, to support the President’s armed neutrality legislation.

    After the President’s address, many senators were eager to vote immediately to show Congress’s unhesitating support for the President’s action, but to do so would have required a suspension of Senate rules by unanimous consent.  Senator LaFollette objected, requiring that debate on the resolution be postponed twenty-four hours.  The Democratic leadership then moved to adjourn until 10:00 a.m. April 4 and announced that when it reconvened the Senate would remain in session and consider no other business until the war resolution was voted on.  The debate that began the morning of April 4 lasted into the evening and occasionally turned rancorous (Senator George Norris of Nebraska charged that the war was being fought to protect bankers and millionaires and that “we are about to put the dollar sign on the American flag”; Senator James Reed of Missouri replied that Norris’s comments were “almost treason”), but at 11:11 p.m. the Senate finally passed the war resolution by a vote of 82 to 6.  The six no votes were cast by three Republicans (Senators LaFollette and Norris and Senator Asle Gronna of North Dakota) and three Democrats (Senator Stone and Senators James Vardaman of Mississippi and Harry Lane of Oregon), all six of whom were members of the “little group of willful men” denounced last month by President Wilson.

    Representative Rankin

    The House of Representatives began debate on the war resolution at 10:00 a.m. Thursday, April 5.  Again debate continued all day and into the night.  The roll call began at 2:45 Friday morning and concluded at 3:12.  The resolution passed by a vote of 373-50.  There was never any doubt about the outcome; the only drama was provided by Jeannette Rankin, a Republican from Montana and the first woman ever to sit in Congress.  Miss Rankin was elected last fall as one of two representatives from her state, which gave women the right to vote in 1914.  When President Wilson addressed Congress on April 2, therefore, the moment was historic for two reasons: Congress was asked to join the World War, and it was the first meeting of Congress ever to include a woman (the President nevertheless addressed his audience as the “Gentlemen of the Congress”).  The first time the roll was called for a vote on the war resolution, Miss Rankin remained silent.  After the roll call ended, her name was called again and after a pause she stood and responded “I want to stand by my country, but I cannot vote for war.  I vote no.”

    President Wilson Signing the War Proclamation

    On the morning of Friday, April 6, the resolution declaring war on Germany was returned to the Senate with the approval of the House of Representatives.  The Senate reconvened at noon, and Vice-president Marshall signed the war resolution as President of the Senate at 12:14.  It was taken directly to the White House, where the President was having lunch with Mrs. Wilson and his cousin Miss Helen Woodrow Bones.  They interrupted their lunch and went to the usher’s room where President Wilson sat at a small table and signed the declaration at 1:18 pm.  Immediately afterward, he signed a Proclamation, prepared in advance and signed by Secretary of State Lansing, notifying the nation and the world that the United States was at war with Germany.  Rudolph Forster, the executive clerk to the President, then went to the executive offices where he announced the signing to the waiting reporters.  The message was flashed by semaphore to the Navy Department across the street and from there by wireless to Naval stations and ships around the world.  At the same time, the War Department notified Army post commanders in the United States and insular possessions by telegraph.  German ships in American harbors have been seized and suspected German spies placed under arrest.  A seven billion dollar war loan has been authorized by Congress, about five billion dollars of which will go to the Entente nations that have been at war with Germany for years and are in immediate need of financial support.  Following the President’s advice to rely as much as possible on taxation rather than borrowing, House and Senate leaders have tentatively agreed to raise fifty percent of the war’s expenses in the new fiscal year beginning July 1 by imposing new taxes and increasing existing ones.  To address the nation’s vastly increased manpower needs, an Army Bill supported by the White House was introduced on April 9 that included a provision imposing the first compulsory military service since the Civil War.

    The compulsory service provision met initial resistance in Congress.  On April 10, the day after the Army Bill was introduced, former President Theodore Roosevelt called on President Wilson at the White House, offering to lend his support to the Army Bill and requesting that he be authorized to recruit and lead a division of volunteers.  Later that day he made the same case in meetings with Secretary Baker and the chairmen of the House and Senate Military Affairs Committees.  On April 13 Baker responded in a letter in which he declined Roosevelt’s offer, saying he could not consent to sending American troops to Europe without “the most thorough training” under “the most professional and experienced officers available.”  Whatever “sentimental value would attach” to his presence in France, Baker thought there were “doubtless other ways in which that value could be contributed apart from a military expedition.”

    Inevitably, this has become an issue in the Congressional consideration of the Army Bill.  On April 23, Senator Warren G. Harding of Ohio offered an amendment to the Senate Bill providing for the enlistment of four divisions of volunteers, with the stated intention of providing a means for Roosevelt to realize his ambition of leading American troops to Europe.  Hiram Johnson, newly elected to the Senate from California, made an impassioned speech on the Senate floor on April 28 in which he hailed Roosevelt as “the clarion voice that first demanded preparedness in this land” and implored Wilson to “send this man of dynamic force, of ability, of virility, and of red-blooded courage, typifying the American nation, over to France, there to bear aloft the American flag for world democracy.”  Harding’s amendment was included in the Senate version of the Army Bill, which will now be considered by a conference committee.

    The United States is at war against Germany only.  In his address to Congress, President Wilson explained that he had “said nothing of the Governments allied with the Imperial Government of Germany because they have not made war upon us or challenged us to defend our right and our honor.”  On April 8, in response to the declaration of war against its ally, Austria-Hungary severed diplomatic relations with the United States.  The Ottoman Empire followed suit on April 20.

    General Funston in San Francisco

    Major General Frederick Funston, who made his reputation in the Philippine insurrection that followed the Spanish-American War and as commander of the Presidio at the time of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, was commanding officer of the Army’s Southern Department during the punitive expedition in Mexico that began last year and ended in January.  He was tentatively slated to lead the American Expeditionary Force to Europe if the United States entered the war, but in February he died suddenly of a heart attack in San Antonio.  It now appears that Major General John J. Pershing, Funston’s subordinate who led the punitive expedition, will get the assignment.

    George Creel

    Attorney General Gregory has drafted and submitted to Congress a proposed Espionage Bill, which among other things would impose censorship on the press.  The Bill has the strong support of President Wilson, but is meeting resistance in Congress, where members of both parties are criticizing the censorship provision as an unconstitutional infringement on freedom of the press.  In addition to blocking unfavorable publicity, the President is interested in promoting the government’s side of the news.  On April 13 he signed an executive order establishing the Committee on Public Information.  The order appointed George Creel, a journalist who assisted in the President’s 1916 reelection campaign, as the Committee’s civilian chairman and authorized the Secretaries of State, War and Navy to detail officers to work with the Committee.  On April 15 the President issued a statement telling Americans “the things we must do, and do well, besides fighting — the things without which mere fighting would be useless.”  Telling Americans they must “speak, act and serve together,” he urged increased production of everything from ships to backyard gardens.

    In his war message to Congress, President Wilson spoke of “the millions of men and women of German birth and native sympathy who live among us and share our life,” most of whom are “as true and loyal Americans as if they had never known any other fealty or allegiance.”  Nevertheless, “if there should be disloyalty, it will be dealt with with a firm hand of stern repression.”  On April 16 he issued a proclamation quoting the legal definition of treason and specifying acts that have been held to be treasonous.  The proclamation emphasizes that the laws against treason apply equally to citizens and resident aliens, and that any such person who has knowledge of the commission of treasonous activity and fails to report it is guilty of misprision of treason.  The President further “proclaims and warns” that all persons committing such acts will be “vigorously prosecuted.”

    Balfour at Union Station, Greeted by Spring-Rice (left) and Lansing

    High Commissioners from Great Britain and France have arrived in the United States to confer in an International War Council with American military and political leaders.  Arthur Balfour, a former British Prime Minister and First Lord of the Admiralty, replaced Sir Edward Grey as Foreign Minister in December.  He arrived at Washington, D.C.’s Union Station shortly after 3:00 p.m. on April 22, where he was greeted  by Secretary of State Robert Lansing and British Ambassador Sir Cecil Arthur Spring-Rice.  His journey took him from Great Britain by way of Canada; his route and itinerary were secret, but alert observers in New York had noticed an unscheduled train pass through the Pennsylvania Station at 8:45 that morning.  Despite the lack of publicity, his arrival in Washington was greeted by cheering throngs as his motor car carried him from Union Station along Massachusetts Avenue to Sixteenth Street and north to the Franklin MacVeagh residence where he and his delegation will reside while in Washington.

    Joffre at the French Embassy

    Two days later, a former passenger liner commanded by a French admiral and carrying the French High Commissioners arrived in the United States.  The liner was greeted off the East Coast by a flotilla of U.S Navy destroyers and escorted into Hampton Roads, where its passengers were transferred to the Presidential Yacht Mayflower for a journey up the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River to Washington.  The delegation was led by Rene Viviani, the former Premier and now Vice Premier and Minister of Justice, and Marshal Joseph Joffre, until recently the Commander in Chief of the French Armies.  The Mayflower arrived shortly after noon April 25 at the Washington Navy Yard, where the visitors were greeted by Secretary of State Lansing and the Marine Band.  As they left the Navy Yard and motored toward the French Embassy, they were cheered by crowds at least as enthusiastic as those that had greeted the arrival of the British delegation three days earlier.  Among the most visible greeters was the tall Mr. Balfour, who stood in his motor car on Sixteenth Street and exchanged bows and salutes with the French delegates as they passed by.

    General Nivelle

    On the day America declared war, French President Raymond Poincare was meeting in his railroad car in the forest of Compiegne with Paul Painleve, the new Minister of War, and General Robert Nivelle, the new Commander in Chief of the French Armies who had replaced General (now Field Marshal) Joffre in December.  At the meeting, Nivelle insisted on final approval of a major offensive he had planned to drive the Germans from the Chemin des Dames.  As the offensive was being planned, German forces withdrew to shorter and better fortified lines and brought in reinforcements in anticipation of the attack.  For that reason and others, including the United States’ anticipated involvement in the war, Painleve argued that the offensive should be cancelled or postponed, but Nivelle insisted on going ahead and threatened to resign if his plan was not approved.  Nivelle’s resignation threatened to bring down the government, so President Poincare, who had the final decision, authorized Nivelle to proceed with the offensive.

    The Western Front and the Battle of Arras

    The offensive began three days later, on Easter Monday (April 9), with an attack by British forces on Arras, on the left of the Allied line, designed in part to draw German forces away from the forthcoming French attack on the Chemin des Dames.  After three days of hard fighting, the Canadian Corps succeeded in driving the Germans from Vimy Ridge, on the north end of the battle line.  The British units to the south succeeded in advancing only as far as the Hindenburg Line, newly occupied by the German Army after last month’s strategic withdrawal.

    General Petain

    On April 16, the French began their attack on the Chemin des Dames.  The plan required the French to attack from (sometimes across) the River Aisne and uphill through woods to high ground occupied by German forces dug into strong positions.  Most of the German fortifications were on the reverse slope, increasing the difficulty of both artillery and infantry attack. Three days later, no gains having been achieved, Painleve urged Nivelle to suspend further attacks.  Although Nivelle had promised to call off the offensive if a breakthrough was not achieved within forty-eight hours, he insisted on continuing.  Munitions were running low and the French Army’s morale was severely weakened, leading to the outbreak of mutinies.  Finally, President Poincare on April 25 ordered Nivelle to cease the attacks, and on April 28 he removed Nivelle as commander in chief.  His replacement is General Philippe Petain.

    Lenin Addressing the Conference of Soviets

    On April 9, having secured the German Government’s cooperation, Russian Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin left Zurich, Switzerland on a train bound for the Baltic coast, where he boarded a ferry to Sweden.  After a journey across Sweden by rail, another ferry trip across the Gulf of Bothnia, and another rail journey across Finland, he arrived on April 16 at Petrograd’s Finland Station where he was greeted by an enthusiastic crowd.  The next day, in an address to the All-Russian Conference of Soviets, he called for the overthrow of the Provisional Government, the abolition of the police, army and bureaucracy, and an immediate end to the war.  Although their name suggests otherwise, the Bolsheviks actually account for a minority even of the Soviet, which in turn is a minority in the Provisional Government, most of which is made up of liberal members of the Duma.  Even among the Bolsheviks, moreover, Lenin appears to speak for only a few, and his April 17 speech to the Conference of Soviets was not well received.

    The Provisional Government is not particularly concerned.  On April 19, in a speech to British and French workingmen in Petrograd, Foreign Minister Miliukov said Russia’s allies need have no fear that she will desert the alliance or weaken her resistance to their common enemies.  He asked them to “announce to your countrymen that free Russia has become doubly strong through democratization, and that she will overlook all sufferings which war entails; that despite the revolution . . . Russia will continue the crusade for annihilation of German militarism with the greatest intensity.”

    In another development of potential importance to the ongoing Russian revolution, Leon Trotsky’s detention in Halifax ended on April 29 after Foreign Minister Miliukov requested that Canada release him.  Trotsky has resumed his journey across the Atlantic to Russia.

    April 1917 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading

    Contemporary Periodicals:

    American Review of Reviews, May and June 1917
    New York Times, April 1917

    Books and Articles:

    Scott Berg, Wilson
    Britain at War Magazine, The Fourth Year of the Great War: 1917
    Winston S. Churchill, The World Crisis 1911-1918
    John Milton Cooper, Jr., Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
    John Milton Cooper, Jr., The Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt
    Patrick Devlin, Too Proud to Fight: Woodrow Wilson’s Neutrality
    John Dos Passos, Mr. Wilson’s War
    David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace: Creating the Modern Middle East, 1914-1922
    Martin Gilbert, Churchill: A Life
    Martin Gilbert, The First World War: A Complete History
    Martin Gilbert, A History of the Twentieth Century, Volume One: 1900-1933
    Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill Volume IV: The Stricken World 1916-1922
    Richard F. Hamilton and Holger H. Herwig, Decisions for War, 1914-1917
    August Heckscher, Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
    Godfrey Hodgson, Woodrow Wilson’s Right Hand: The Life of Colonel Edward M. House
    Roy Jenkins, Churchill: A Biography
    John Keegan, The First World War
    David M. Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War and American Society
    Ian Kershaw, To Hell and Back: Europe 1914-1949
    Nicholas A. Lambert, Planning Armageddon: British Economic Warfare and the First World War
    Arthur S. Link, Wilson: Confusions and Crises, 1915-1916
    Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era, 1910-1917
    Robert K. Massie, Nicholas and Alexandra
    G.J. Meyer, A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918
    G.J. Meyer, The World Remade: America in World War I
    Michael S. Neiberg, The Path to War: How the First World War Created Modern America
    Jonathan Schneer, The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict
    Lee Thompson, Never Call Retreat: Theodore Roosevelt and the Great War
    Adam Tooze, The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931
    Barbara W. Tuchman, The Zimmermann Telegram
    Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History
    The West Point Atlas of War: World War I

    The following is reprinted from the Centennial Countdown to the Great War  blog published by Dennis Cross. Read the original post and access an archive of previous posts at: more

    Memorials to the Missing: Notre Dame de Lorette

    After the First Battle of the Marne in 1914 the German Army withdrew to form a strong defensive line. In the sector south of the Ypres Salient and north of the Somme, in the ancient province of Artois, there are two massifs, located between the industrial cities of Arras and Lens in the Douai region. Using modern names, these were the Colline de Notre Dame de Lorette (Hill 165 on military maps) and Vimy Ridge. The French High Command placed a top priority on dislodging the Germans from these two bastions, and between September 1914 and October 1915 they mounted three assaults on Notre Dame de Lorette and two against Vimy Ridge. They captured the top of Notre Dame de Lorette but Vimy Ridge remained in German hands until taken by Canadian forces in April 1917 (more about this in a future post). These attacks cost the French about as many men as the battle of Verdun in 1916, but the success at Notre Dame de Lorette was the greatest achievement of French arms in 1915.

    The hill of Notre Dame de Lorette derives its name from a tiny Marian Shrine erected in gratitude in the eighteenth century by a local artist who was cured of lameness at the ‘Holy House’ in Loreto, Italy.   His shrine was destroyed in the Revolutionary period, rebuilt thenreplaced with a larger building in the 1880’s,

    Basilica of Notre Dame de Lorette

    which was in turn obliterated in the 1915 fighting. A new structure was raised after the war and it was designated a basilica by Pope Pius XI in 1927. As such it is one of the smallest basilicas in the world (St. Peter’s in Rome being the largest).

    There is also a cemetery on the heights, which has the largest number of individual burials in any French military cemetery worldwide, slightly more than the cemetery at Douaumont in the Verdun sector, and eight ossuaries containing the remains of around 20,000 unknown dead (Douaumont Ossuary has 130,000).

    View of cemetery at Notre Dame de Lorette

    The French have a different way of commemorating their missing than the Brits or Americans. At certain sites there are ‘lantern towers’ which have at the top a revolving light which symbolizes a beacon to guide the spirits of the lost to the site. The tower at Notre Dame de Lorette is about 170 feet tall and the ‘light for the dead’ can be seen as far away as 45 miles.


    Lantern Tower Notre Dame de Lorette

    In the base of the tower there is a chapel of repose, with 32 individual burials, including the unknown soldiers from World War 2, Indochina and Algeria. The unknown from WW1 is buried under the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

    Also nearby is the brand-new Ring of Remembrance, a modernistic concrete circle about 1,000 feet in circumference which bears on the inside surface stainless steel panels which list the names of 579,606 persons of all nationalities and combatant sides who are considered by their governments to have died in Northern France in WW1. This awesome structure was dedicated on November 11th, 2014 with David Cameron, Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel in attendance.

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