Category Archive 'WWI'
02 Jun 2016

New Edition of “Storm of Steel”

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ErnstJunger
Ernst Jünger (1895-1998)

Karl Marlantes (Y ’67), who served as an officer in the Marine Corps, received the Navy Cross, and wrote perhaps the best Vietnam War novel, is pretty much the ideal choice to write the introduction for the new Penguin Classics edition of Ernst Jünger’s WWI memoir Storm of Steel.

[L]ike Jünger, who observed the stream of colored flares, I can appreciate that, borrowing a phrase from Yeats, there is a terrible beauty about war, even though I’m not a born warrior. I remember watching enemy tracers seeming to float into the night sky over Laos, seeking to down one of our airplanes, in much the same way I’d watch fireworks. I remember even being enthralled, late in my tour when I’d been transferred to an air ob­server squadron, by green tracers flying by both windows of our OV-10 as we dived firing, head to head with an NVA antiaircraft gun. Jünger sees the beauty—it’s everywhere in his memoir—and perhaps you will see it too. This doesn’t need to change how you judge war; coral snakes and tsunamis are beautiful too.

Jünger writes about many things other than combat, but all take us into the trenches as he saw them. He writes about fear and panic. He writes about nature—about having to live outside, just like a wild animal, in all of nature’s cruelty and beauty. He writes about the code of honor and manliness that engenders mutual respect be­tween soldiers on opposite sides of the battle, as when he encoun­tered a young British officer just before Christmas during a poignant temporary truce that unfortunately went bad:

    We did, though, say much to one another that betokened an almost sportsmanlike admiration for the other, and I’m sure we should have liked to exchange mementoes.

At another point he writes:

    Throughout the war, it was always my endeavour to view my opponent without animus, and to form an opinion of him as a man on the basis of the courage he showed.

And he writes about the understated and often gallows humor that goes hand in hand with the code of honor and manliness. I remember in Vietnam a kid waiting to be medevaced, gasping for air because he’d taken a bullet through one lung, saying, “You know, sir, it ruined my whole day.” Jünger often uses such humor:

    We suffered many casualties from the over-familiarity engendered by daily encounters with gunpowder. My dugout was somewhat changed as well . . . the British had fumigated it with a few hand-grenades. We were so abundantly graced with trench mortars . . .

In another scene, Jünger describes a fierce skirmish with Indi­an soldiers from the First Hariana Lancers:

    With only twenty men we had seen off a detachment several times larger, and attacking us from more than one side, and in spite of the fact that we had orders to withdraw if we were outnumbered. It was precisely an engagement like this that I’d been dreaming of during the longueurs of positional warfare.

I’d have been dreaming of my high school girlfriends.

“These short expeditions,” Jünger writes, “where a man takes his life in his hands, were a good means of testing our mettle and interrupting the monotony of trench life. There’s nothing worse for a soldier than boredom.” I would say homesickness, hunger, hypothermia, getting gassed, gangrene, and trench foot, not to mention getting killed or maimed, would all be worse than boredom. But Jünger was different.

Read the whole thing.

01 Jun 2016

100 Years Ago: The Battle of Jutland

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May 31 — June 1, 1916

22 May 2016

Tolkien’s Webley

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TolkienWebley
The Webley Mk V [Correction: Mark VI -thanks to Hammond Aikes] of 2nd Lieutenant J.R.R. Tolkien.

According to the Imperial War Museum,

Tolkien was an Oxford University student in 1914 but was commissioned into the Lancashire Fusiliers soon after taking his degree in 1915. He joined the 11th Battalion of his regiment in France in June 1916, shortly before the Battle of the Somme. During the battle Tolkien served as the battalion signals officer. In late October 1916 he contracted trench fever and was sent back to England in early November. He spent most of the rest of the war convalescing. It was at this time that he began to write early versions of his Middle Earth stories. Debate continues regarding the extent to which Tolkien’s war experiences influenced his literary work.

Tolkien_1916

11 Nov 2015

Armistice Day, Later Known as Veterans Day, also known as Martinmas

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—this post is repeated annually—

WWI came to an end by an armistice arranged to occur at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. The date and time, selected at a point in history when mens’ memories ran much longer, represented a compliment to St. Martin, patron saint of soldiers, and thus a tribute to the fighting men of both sides. The feast day of St. Martin, the Martinmas, had been for centuries a major landmark in the European calendar, a date on which leases expired, rents came due; and represented, in Northern Europe, a seasonal turning point after which cold weather and snow might be normally expected.

It fell about the Martinmas-time, when the snow lay on the borders…
—-Old Song.

From Robert Chambers, The Book of Days, 1869:

St. Martin, the son of a Roman military tribune, was born at Sabaria, in Hungary, about 316. From his earliest infancy, he was remarkable for mildness of disposition; yet he was obliged to become a soldier, a profession most uncongenial to his natural character. After several years’ service, he retired into solitude, from whence he was withdrawn, by being elected bishop of Tours, in the year 374.

The zeal and piety he displayed in this office were most exemplary. He converted the whole of his diocese to Christianity, overthrowing the ancient pagan temples, and erecting churches in their stead. From the great success of his pious endeavours, Martin has been styled the Apostle of the Gauls; and, being the first confessor to whom the Latin Church offered public prayers, he is distinguished as the father of that church. In remembrance of his original profession, he is also frequently denominated the Soldier Saint.

The principal legend, connected with St. Martin, forms the subject of our illustration, which represents the saint, when a soldier, dividing his cloak with a poor naked beggar, whom he found perishing with cold at the gate of Amiens. This cloak, being most miraculously preserved, long formed one of the holiest and most valued relics of France; when war was declared, it was carried before the French monarchs, as a sacred banner, and never failed to assure a certain victory. The oratory in which this cloak or cape—in French, chape—was preserved, acquired, in consequence, the name of chapelle, the person intrusted with its care being termed chapelain: and thus, according to Collin de Plancy, our English words chapel and chaplain are derived.

The canons of St. Martin of Tours and St. Gratian had a lawsuit, for sixty years, about a sleeve of this cloak, each claiming it as their property. The Count Larochefoucalt, at last, put an end to the proceedings, by sacrilegiously committing the contested relic to the flames. …

The festival of St. Martin, happening at that season when the new wines of the year are drawn from the lees and tasted, when cattle are killed for winter food, and fat geese are in their prime, is held as a feast-day over most parts of Christendom. On the ancient clog almanacs, the day is marked by the figure of a goose; our bird of Michaelmas being, on the continent, sacrificed at Martinmas. In Scotland and the north of England, a fat ox is called a mart, clearly from Martinmas, the usual time when beeves are killed for winter use. In ‘Tusser’s Husbandry, we read:

When Easter comes, who knows not then,
That veal and bacon is the man?
And Martilmass beef doth bear good tack,
When country folic do dainties lack.’

Barnaby Googe’s translation of Neogeorgus, shews us how Martinmas was kept in Germany, towards the latter part of the fifteenth century

‘To belly chear, yet once again,
Doth Martin more incline,
Whom all the people worshippeth With roasted geese and wine.
Both all the day long, and the night, Now each man open makes
His vessels all, and of the must, Oft times, the last he takes,
Which holy Martin afterwards Alloweth to be wine,
Therefore they him, unto the skies, Extol with praise divine.’

A genial saint, like Martin, might naturally be expected to become popular in England; and there are no less than seven churches in London and Westminster, alone, dedicated to him. There is certainly more than a resemblance between the Vinalia of the Romans, and the Martinalia of the medieval period.

Indeed, an old ecclesiastical calendar, quoted by Brand, expressly states under 11th November: ‘The Vinalia, a feast of the ancients, removed to this day. Bacchus in the figure of Martin.’ And thus, probably, it happened, that the beggars were taken from St. Martin, and placed under the protection of St. Giles; while the former became the patron saint of publicans, tavern-keepers, and other ‘dispensers of good eating and drinking. In the hall of the Vintners’ Company of London, paintings and statues of St. Martin and Bacchus reign amicably together side by side.

On the inauguration, as lord mayor, of Sir Samuel Dashwood, an honoured vintner, in 1702, the company had a grand processional pageant, the most conspicuous figure in which was their patron saint, Martin, arrayed, cap-à-pie, in a magnificent suit of polished armour; wearing a costly scarlet cloak, and mounted on a richly plumed and caparisoned white charger: two esquires, in rich liveries, walking at each side. Twenty satyrs danced before him, beating tambours, and preceded by ten halberdiers, with rural music. Ten Roman lictors, wearing silver helmets, and carrying axes and fasces, gave an air of classical dignity to the procession, and, with the satyrs, sustained the bacchanalian idea of the affair.

A multitude of beggars, ‘howling most lamentably,’ followed the warlike saint, till the procession stopped in St. Paul’s Churchyard. Then Martin, or his representative at least, drawing his sword, cut his rich scarlet cloak in many pieces, which he distributed among the beggars. This ceremony being duly and gravely performed, the lamentable howlings ceased, and the procession resumed its course to Guildhall, where Queen Anne graciously condescended to dine with the new lord mayor.

14 Sep 2015

Shooting the Chauchat

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Chauchat
Lot 3767: “Fusil Mitrailleur Modele 1915 CSRG”, better known as the Chauchat

James D. Julia is selling a Chauchat in the course of their October 5-7 Firearms Auction and has released today another of the highly informative Forgotten Weapons videos devoted to this famous, but widely despised, particular weapon of WWI.

Wikipedia article.

17:48 video

27 Apr 2015

Gallipoli, Then and Now

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Gallipoli
The hillside at Suvla Bay where British troops landed in August, 1915.

Historic WWI photos superimposed over current photos. HuffPo

24 Jan 2015

Ships’ Dazzle Camouflage WWI

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Dazzle1
Dazzle2

The Battle of Jutland must have looked like all the admirals had recently dropped acid.

Belacqui:

Modern art, wartime strategy and perceptual psychology converged during World War I giving rise to dazzle camouflage. The only color visual records of dazzle camouflage from the period are paint-scheme drawings made by the Admiralty and modernist marine paintings. The picture by Group of 7 artist Arthur Lismer of HMS Olympic in dazzle is not a fauvist hallucination, but a true record of the ship’s appearance just after the Armistice. The modernist painter Edward Wadsworth (British, 1889-1949) supervised the application of dazzle camouflage at the Liverpool naval shipbuilding yards during World War I. He painted the image above and others, and also made wood block prints depicting ships in dazzle. After the war, he also painted abstract compositions based on dazzle patterns.

ArthurLismerOlympic
Arthur Lismer, Olympic With Returned Soldiers, Halifax, 1918, Canadian War Museum

05 Jan 2015

How to Prevent WWII

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jealousy_and_flirtation
Haynes King, Jealousy and Flirtation, 1874, Victoria & Albert Museum.

Every once in a blue moon, Quora has an amusing and informative answer to a question.

Asked for a small act which might prevent WWII, Jon Davis responds:

I’d give a flower to a very particular young lady at a very particular moment in time.

This would have to be a very particular young lady, of course. Given the consequences of the choice, it had better also be a very particular flower. But either way, I would give a flower to a lady.

This young woman would a be very important girl in history, because at the time I would meet her, she should rightly be meeting someone else. If I were to succeed in gaining her attention, the attention of one girl history only remembers as a footnote, and even that for only a few short minutes, history would never have been the same.

As I said, this girl must be special, so special that there is no other girl like her in the world. She must be the Duke of Cleveland’s daughter. The time would have to be around 1837.

Read the whole thing.

18 Nov 2014

Battlefield Landscapes from WWI a Century Later

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GermanWWICemetery
German cemetery at Tetes des Faux.

Telegraph slideshow

20 Aug 2014

Irish Guards 1914

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IrishGuards

An Irish Guards machine-gun team in 1914. Not a single one of these men pictured here survived the war.

Via Fred Lapides.

04 Aug 2014

“The Guns of August”

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A documentary based on the Barbara Tuchman book.

04 Aug 2014

August 4, 1914

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nyt-ww1

Germany implements the Schlieffen Plan, violating Belgian Neutrality, in an attempt to outflank the French Army and gain a quick victory by knocking France out of the war.

In response to the invasion of neutral Belgium, Britain declares war on Germany.

“The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time.” remarks British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey.

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