While I am not writing about the 1916 Battle of the Somme, one of the fiercest battles of the war, I can’t help bumping up against material about it, and, truly, about a good deal that does not have to do with The Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel which is the subject of the book. As you have seen already, the blogs travel into elements of the war and warfare that are not part of battles. HOWEVER, this is the one hundredth anniversary of the filming of the 1916 documentary, The Battle of the Somme. It is an amazing feat of filmmaking. This is considered the most important documentary of the war. At the Imperial War Museum in London the 75 minute film is shown almost constantly. It has its own screen and seating area. I watched it when I was there last year. This year I will buy a copy. There is another contemporary documentary about the documentary’s making. I will buy that one, too. Soon after we get home in August we will have a showing of the two at our house. They won’t be on the same evening. Look forward. I see that Amazon has a 47 minute version that can be downloaded. Those of you with Prime can see it for free.
Naturally, everything connected with World War I had to be done on a massive
scale. Everything we could think of used in the war came in huge quantities and numbers.
Today, not many Americans visit many of the cemeteries that populate the landscape where battles were fought in the war. Thus, it is likely that the work that went into creating those final resting places for the soldiers of many nations is barely known. While burial had its gruesome parts, it also expressed the nobility of those who keep the cemeteries to honor the sacrifices the man who lay in them made.
Naturally, having visited many World War I military cemeteries, and, since I am writing about the war again, I will have my Gravedigger out of Hamlet guide us through the tragedy of the burial fields.
The military museum in Peronne, France, where much fighting took place, it being part of the Somme battlefield, shows a motion picture, maybe eight minutes long, of a burial squad working just outside of the battlefield. I was touched by both the “everydayness” of the work, and the solemn way it was carried out.
For more, see World War I Cemeteries.
In my latest blog of three weeks ago I wrote about the varied and specialized uses
of lorries and buses in World War I. The picture I included was of a lorry equipped as a pigeon cote. Homing pigeons played an important role in communications for all sides in the war.
As a novelist (and just my own preoccupations) I am interested in the little thought of aspect of whatever I write about. Thus, small matters, ephemera, details make up what become major subjects in my writing. So, this note is to pay homage to the lowly pigeon. I am intrigued by the pigeon photographer that the Germans put to use.
Pigeons have a unique ability to navigate their way from wherever they are released to their home cote. The fly high and swiftly. They are difficult targets to hit.
Follow this link to learn more. Befriend a pigeon and thank it for its species’ service.
Last week I posted a blog about a memorial built to commemorate the work of people producing rubber boots for soldiers who spent much time in the trenches of France and Belgium. This week I am giving a glimpse into the work life of women who manufactured ammunition.
The picture gives an idea of the extent of the factory in which the women labored. Once the Great War got under way, the scale of everything dedicated to the conduct of the war grew by many magnitudes. The pressure of all these efforts had a monumental effect on the way of life of the countries engaged. These changes were permanent.
In an earlier log about the new novel about the Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel I wrote that a good part would be about the soldiers’ lives and activities under the ground. I have collected a supply of pictures such installations to feed my imagination. Recently I found photographs of a hospital in an underground quarry in France that each army–French, German, and British–used as each held the area.
In the novel the underworld will represent the Underworld. A place of vermin, demons, and sinners—in this case the Germans. The novel will follow Dante’s schema in the Divine Comedy—the Inferno, Limbo, and Paradiso.
The Angel of Mons is a legend, not a fact. Consequently, there is no version that can
be factually accurate. The facts about the legend, however, are well known. They begin with the publication of Arthur Machen’s short story, “The Bowmen” in The Evening Standard on September 29, 1914, over a month after the Battle of Mons. This is only one of several versions. Sergeant Thomas Fitzpatrick, who is written about in this article, is also a character in my novel, The Angel of Mons: A World War I Legend. He appears in Chapter Eleven entitled: “The Quarry, St. George, and the Angels of the Golden Mist.”
In 2008, when Sarah Barker and I were taken to visit sites related to the battle by a local historian, expert in the Battle of Mons, and the Deputy Director of the Mons Tourism Bureau. We were taken to an old path into a forest. To our surprise, the historian said that along that path on the night of August 23 Sergeant Fitzgerald and his fifty soldiers, including the Company band, were guided to safety by the Angel of Mons.
A recent article in the British publication Wexford People.ie writes his story under the headline “Wexford Born Soldier was Angel of Mons Hero in the Great War.” Read the story and read the chapter. If you don’t own the book you can 1) buy one on Amazon or 2) thought Singing Bone Press, 3) or ask your library to buy it, 4) or request it on interlibrary loan. 5) Or you can request a copy of the chapter from me. I will be glad to send it to you as a .pdf file. Find out more.
Angels fighting with us against the Huns at Mons
Of course God was on our side in the Great War and an early proof of this came in August 1914 at the Battle of Mons when, it was reliably reported, He sent His angels to repulse the Huns as they seemed about to overrun the British. One hundred years ago this week London’s New Statesman reported that belief in the Mons miracle was growing.
“The announcement by Dr. Reverend Horton [a popular and influential Manchester preacher and occultist] of his belief in the story of the angels who appeared on the side of the British at the battle of Mons and stuck terror into the Germans, and even into their horses, has created a great deal of interest.
“Whatever its origin, it is now going the rounds of the parish magazines, and is likely to take a permanent place among the legends, true and false, of the war.
“This belief in the active interference of divine and semi-divine beings in the conflicts of men is as old as the memory of the race. The most interesting vision of angels ever seen was that of a French girl-soldier. Poor Joan of Arc saved her country and lost her life owing to the vision of an angel.
“Her story is at least as incredible as the story of the angels at Mons, and yet how many of us in our hearts disbelieve it? Angels … are too vital in the grave procession of history to be dismissed with a lofty omniscience of unbelief.”
A couple of weeks ago I asked if anyone could translate the text of this political cartoon magazine cover criticizing Kaiser Wilhelm II. I know Eve Ross as a poet and law librarian. But I didn’t know that she knows Russian. She translated the words. Here is what they mean:
The word at the top means “warlock.” Based on the root words in Russian, it literally means a guy with a black book (a black magic spell book).
On the outside of the book, on the edges of the pages, it says “black book.”
On the inside of the book, what the Kaiser is reading says “announce wars in all Europe.”
The warring nations used every medium and method to encourage a hatred of
the enemy. For the Germans, it was everyone they fought against. For the Russians, Germany, personified by the Kaiser, was the devil incarnate. Here he appears, planning his cunning, malevolent actions against the rest of the world.
If anyone who reads this can translate the words, I would appreciate seeing the translation. I will happily share it with you in a future blog. Next week, another magazine cover and commentary.
Combat du lumecon doudou ducasse; This past April a new museum celebrating and recording the history of the ceremony opened in Mons. Sometime in 2016 I will go to Mons to give a lecture at the Mons Memorial Museum on The Angel of Mons. I plan to visit the new Doudou museum when I return to Mons. There is also a home that Van Gogh lived in just outside of Mons that has been restored and is now also a museum. I will visit there also. As is the case with a city we become familiar with, there is always more to see, more people to visit. Ah, the world.