Category Archives: The Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel

Unlike Most Novels I Have Read

One of Three blogs coming up—one today, one next Sunday, and one the Sunday after.

My South Carolina Characters

Bellicourt Tunnel: The Crowning Battle of the Great War is filled with captioned photographs and maps. The photographs come from The Thirtieth Division in the World War, the official account of Division’s time from being federalized until they returned home, and a book of photographs from the 27th Division, the other Division assigned to the British Fourth Army. The photographs drop you into the reality of the war.

This photograph gave me all I needed to know about my dozen South Carolina soldiers.

Unlike most novels I read, instead of blurbs appearing on the back cover, there are dramatic photographs.

South Entrance to Bellicourt Tunnel after the Americans and Australians won it.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel

Beginning today I will write and post weekly notes about Bellicourt Tunnel: The Crowning Battle of the Great War. Some will be comments about the book, some comments by writers about it, accounts of decisions I made, obstacles that imagination overcame, and often a photograph.

Please follow, if you will, and share with friends and encourage them to read and share, too. Let me know what thoughts what I write brings to mind. I write stories because I want readers to pass a few hours enjoying a world of imagination that reading brings to the mind’s eye and ear. Without looking for too strict a definition, I would call Bellicourt Tunnel a fantasia. It blends fact, fiction, and fantasy (if help from the revenant—souls returned from the dead—and angels and demons can be considered fantasy.)

To begin

The book begins with an epigraph, a quotation from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s book Adventures and Memories.

Doyle often visited the war as official correspondent for the government. He was its chief propagandist.

 “I had not expected to see any more actual operations of the war, but early in September 1918 I had an intimation from the Australian Government that I might visit their section of the line. Little did I think that this would lead me to see the crowning battle of the war.”

Here’s the behind the scenes story.

Once I decided that I would write Bellicourt Tunnel as a sequel to The Angel of Mons it meant that I would bring several characters forward. Tommy Atkins, St. George, Joan d’Arc, angels, and Sherlock Holmes are fictional creations who I would write about again. Since Winston Churchill and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, also characters in the Angel, were real people, I intended to find out where they were around the time of the battle. I expected to need to create a pretext for Doyle to have something to do with this story, as I had to with Winston Churchill. At the University of South Carolina Thomas Cooper Library I went to the shelves of Conan Doyle material and read along the spines. I came to a book entitled Adventures and Memories, looked at the copyright date—1924—after the War. Maybe here I could find out where he was around the time of the battle.

I read down the chapter titles and came to “Breaking the Hindenburg Line.” This was the Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel! Doyle wrote: “I had not expected to see any more actual operations of the war, but early in September 1918 I had an intimation from the Australian Government that I might visit their section of the line. Little did I think that this would lead me to see the crowning battle of the war.”

That he was present at the Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel, actually making his way, guided, onto the field of battle I took as an auspicious sign for my story .

Then he wrote: Under our very eyes, was even now being fought a part of that great fight where at last the children of light were beating down into the earth the forces of darkness. It was there. We could see it. And yet how little there was to see! This passage is perhaps as significant as the first for the novel. Because in the Angle of Mons Doyle was initiated into the “Golden Arrows of God,” he experiences and sees the divine battle taking place along with the human battle. The above passage hints at that.

In Chapter 18, “Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Tommy Atkins” Doyle testifies to what happened when he was at the battle, now that he is free to explain.

More and different to come next week. Please, if you have questions or would like to have me write about particular problems I encountered (these are always a surprise, and the solutions even more of a surprise, let me know. You can go directly to the book title or my name on Amazon and buy the book there. If you would like an inscribed copy, send a request to singingbonepress@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

 

Lexington County Museum December 6 6:30 p.m. Free

Hazelius House   231 Fox Street Lexington, SC

Bellicourt Tunnel: The Crowning Battle of the Great War and the South Carolina Soldiers who Fought in It

Front cover

Jerred Metz, author and speaker

The United Stated declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917. After training for nearly a year at Camp Sevier near Greenville, the Thirtieth Division—along with the Twenty-Seventh, which trained at Camp Wadsworth—were the first two Divisions of American soldiers to sail to Europe.

Jerred Metz will describe the Thirtieth Division’s—soldiers from South Carolina, North Carolina, and Tennessee, who fought in the World War I Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel—role in the fight and the battle’s significance in the war.

Metz will lay out the plans and reasoning that led up to the battle on September 29, 1918. The Division retired from the field on October 20, fighting Germans, pushing them further back each day for twenty-one days.

Metz will show these three miles the Hindenburg line, the officers and soldiers who fought, the fight, and its role in bringing about Germany’s willingness to end the war.

The author of eleven books, Jerred Metz’s two recent novels are “The Angel of Mons: A World War I Legend” and its sequel, Bellicourt Tunnel: The Crowning Battle of the Great War.

 

The Soldier Who Won the Great War

Lieutenant Ernest Rollings

Lieutenant Ernest Rollings

In The Crowning Battle of the Great War: The Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel, I credit Sherlock Holmes with being led to the plans by Joan of Arc. They both appear in the companion novel, The Angel of Mons: A World War I Legend.

The soldier who actually found the plans was Ernest Rollings. Having “killed Germans by the score” as he led his men on a daring raid nine miles behind enemy lines in northern France, that August 1918 morning Rollings and his men attacked the German Corps headquarters in a farmhouse in Framerville.

He found a sheaf of documents, hastily torn but not burnt containing details of “every machine gun post, trench mortar battery and fortified position” of Germany’s impregnable Hindenburg defensive line.

Headlines called him “the man who ended the war” and now an exhibition honouring his valiant efforts is taking centre stage as part of the Firing Line display at Cardiff Castle Museum.

The Soldier Who Won the Great War

The Soldier Who Won the Great War

I want to give proper honor to the soldier and his men whose deed earned him the praise and recognition.

Lieutenant Ernest Rollings was awarded a second Military Cross after the Battle of Amiens. I don’t know what the first one was for or when it was awarded.

An interesting sidelight: Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon

Steve burnett photo

I discovered this article recently and reproduce it completely.

As it turns out, Owen and Sassoon will play a role in my new novel, The Crowning Battle of the Great War: The Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel. They are two of the most important poets of the War. I have read deeply in the poetry of both of them.

More of them in future blogs.

When Sarah and I were on a tour with seven British folk and the Bird brothers we visited the spot, a canal, in France where Owen was killed. We also visited the grave of Sassoon’s companion.

The Wilfred Owen violin played by Thoren Ferguson seated in the Craiglockhart sycamore, and the newly completed Siegfried Sassoon violin played by Lewis Kelly, standing

Luthier Steve Burnett has created a violin in the name of poet Siegfried Sassoon from the branch of a sycamore tree still standing in the grounds of the Craiglockhart building, a former first world war shell shock hospital in Edinburgh. It forms a pair with a violin created in 2014 from the same branch in honour of Wilfred Owen, a fellow poet and patient at the hospital.

On 15 August the instruments will be played together in public for the first time, to mark the occasion of the poets’ first meeting at the hospital 100 years ago. Owen had been sent to Craiglockhart in June 1917 to recover from shell shock after serving on the front line in France, and contemporary sources suggest that he met the then already decorated war hero and published poet Sassoon between 15 and 19 August. The centenary is being marked by a week of celebrations and commemorations, entitled ‘Wilfred Owen’s Edinburgh 1917-2017’

Burnett, whose violin workshop is in Edinburgh, adopted a method of using green wood to make the first instrument, taking the branch in winter before the sap started to rise.

‘The Sassoon violin was made in a more traditional way, using seasoned wood,’ he said, ‘but like the Owen violin it was created as a symbol of peace and reconciliation through the power of music and it will be played as a tribute to two great poets and a lost generation.

‘The Wilfred Owen has travelled widely over the last three years, being played in schools and at many First World War commemoration events,’ he said. Maxim Vengerov and Nigel Kennedy are among those to have played it.

The instruments will be played at Craiglockhart at a Royal Society of Edinburgh lecture by Neil McLennan, author of a forthcoming book about Owen’s time in Edinburgh. They will also be heard on BBC Radio 4’s ‘World War One: The Cultural Front’ at 10.30am on 19 August.

Catherine Walker, curator of the Craiglockhart-based War Poets Collection, said: ‘Both Owen and Sassoon loved and appreciated music, so the two violins are a wonderful and fitting tribute.

 

The Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel

Thirtieth Division in the World War

It has been quite some time since I’ve written a blog. The main reason is that I have been concentrating on the next novel, which I mentioned a while ago: The Crowning Battle of the Great War: The Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel: A Novel.

As soon as The Angel of Mons: A World War I Legend was published, I began looking for a battle that would 1) take place in the last days of the war (so I would have the time to write a book and get it published.) The climactic day of the Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel was September 29, 1918, less than two months before the Armistice. 2) The book had to involve soldiers from South Carolina, where I have lived for twenty years. Sure enough, I discovered that soldiers from the Second Army, American Expeditionary Force, 30th Division, made up of soldiers from South and North Carolina and Tennessee fought at the Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel. My friend Mitch Yockelson, of the National Archives, wrote about these soldiers in his book Borrowed Soldiers.

As is always the case, there were many surprises. I though there might be a way to bring some of the characters from the Angel of Mons into this one. The character who is the narrator of the last chapter of the story, Tommy Atkins, was still alive and fighting until the last days. He is a major character. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle appears in a major role, and in smaller roles are Winston Churchill, Sherlock Holmes, (now a spy for the British), and even smaller roles for two of the major “war poets”, Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon.

While I am far from finished, I am far enough along to know that the book should be published in December, 2017 or January, 2018.

From now until then I will regularly write about the book, the battle, the location, characters, and whatever else I think might interest you.

Feel welcome to share my blog with friends. When the book is ready, you will be ready for it.

World War I Soldier Slang

imagesMuch of what I read is directly related to the historical novels I write. I read The Long Trail: What Soldiers and Sailors Sang and Said in the Great War, learned a lot that was useful to my writing. It is filled with definitions of the vast number of phrases the soldiers developed to talk with each other. It gave me words and phrases to use–and to avoid–since the descriptions often had a date or event when the phrase came into use. Since The Angel of Mons: A World War I Legend appeared on the very first day of the war, all the phrases and words I took had to be in use by then. Nothing later. The lexicon even has a bizarre reference to The Angel of Mons. By Eric Partridge and John Brophy.

Eric Partridge, later in life.

Eric Partridge, later in life.

I just read it again, since The Crowning Battle of The Great War: The Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel takes place on September 29, 1918, I will find many more terms and phrases to consider giving my characters to say.

My friend and expert in the 30th Division and the Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel, Jim Legg, a military archaeologist, told me about Lingo of No Man’s Land: A World War I Slang Dictionary (Originally subtitled The War Time Lexicon) by Lorenzo Napoleon Smith, a soldier in the Canadian Army. The book has many terms that are not in The Long Trail and additional defining terms for the ones the two books share. It has many phrases, for example, that the soldiers used for lice beyond cootie.

Author: Lorenzo Napoleon

Author: Lorenzo Napoleon

It is wonderful to see the attitude or view the phrase expressed. Many ridicule officers and the enemy. Many, too difficult for me to use, are Cockney slang, a complicated set of word changes. An example, though not precisely accurate, is why Columbia, South Carolina is known locally as Soda City. Columbia is often shortened to Cola, which is a soda. Hence, Soda City.

 

The Monument to the American Soldiers who Fought at the Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel

While I continue working on the novel The Crowning Battle of the Great War: Bellicourt Tunnel(the title taken from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s personal account of the battle, at which he was present) I thought it might be good to show the monument that commemorates the fight. These are official photographs from the government website. Sadly, there are pictures of the map engraved on the floor or foot of the monument, but the picture did not do a good job of photographing it. It marks on a compass the direction and location of key sites in the day’s battle. The map in the first illustration is inscribed on the back of the monument.

Map of the Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel inscribed on the back of the American monument

Map of the Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel inscribed on the back of the American monument

The monument is on top of a berm the Germans built using the dirt they dug when making the trenches that stood atop the three-mile wide tunnel.

Back of the monument commemorating the American 27th and 30th Divisions that fought at Bellicourt Tunnel

Back of the monument commemorating the American 27th and 30th Divisions that fought at Bellicourt Tunnel

 

 

 

 

Front of the monument commemorating the 27th and 30th Divisions that fought at the Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel

Front of the monument commemorating the 27th and 30th Divisions that fought at the Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel

The monument itself is rather small. There is a bit of a grassy area in front of it, and a driveway with parking for a few cars. When I was there in 2015, I was the only visitor. The same was true when I visited the graveyard for Americans killed in the battle. Only a few more graves than a thousand. This has to do with, I think, with the relative obscurity of the battle. So why am I writing about it? There was a multitude of battles that were relatively obscure, with little written about them. So it was with Mons, about which I’ve already written. And Le Cateau, which is also part of the Angel of Mons novel. Traveling through the region of the Somme, I saw many places where heroism and gallantry met with trickery and guile. Each one has its book or two, and is compelling. Of course, the big fights—the Meuse-Argonne, Ypres (three times fought over), the Marne, twice, and many others stand out. But writing tends to bring the obscure, the seemingly insignificant, to light.

I plan to return to the battlefield to commemorate its centenary on September 29, 2018. On Armistice Day, November 11, 2018, I will be in Mons when that momentous event is commemorated. Mons is justly known by the appellation “The First and the Last” because the first British solider was killed there, as was the last soldier representing the British Empire—one of war’s many oddities, if not ironies.

A Famous World War I Painting

Gassed, by John Singer Sergeant

Gassed, by John Singer Sergeant

In World War I many artists and writers were commissioned to produce memorial art to commemorate the glory, gallantry, sacrifice, and suffering of soldiers in the monumental struggle that cost the lives of so many and changed the world. One of the most remarkable is Gassed, by John Singer Sergeant. Though best known for his portraits, Sergeant also made several war painting, a vastly different subject.

At the age of 62, he was sent to the battlefield to observe first hand and paint a work for public display. He did several of smaller size. His study for this piece—his work, like that of so many artists, refers to several masterpieces. The picture was originally intended for display in a planned Hall of Remembrance. However, the hall was never built. Instead the picture was taken by the Imperial War Museum. Because of its massive size—7 ½ feet high and 20 feet long—the painting was not suited to any of the display areas in the museum. Instead, the work was placed in a room far from the normal flow of visitor viewing, hard to find.

I was fortunate in 2015 to visit the museum with my friends, Nick and Antony Bird, whose battlefield tour company took me and Sarah to important battlefield sites in Belgium and France in 2014. The brothers took me to see the painting. It is in a room where it is the only object. The room is narrow, so the view is rather close to the paining itself. I suspect that, seen from a greater distance, it would have a slightly different impact. In any case, it is stunning, one of the most impressive pieces of World War I art I wish that more people, especially those who visit the museum anyway, would get to see Gassed.

Meet Lewis, the machine gun

In a novel characters need to have a reasonable connection with each other. In The Angel of Mons the main characters among the soldiers were two Vickers Machine Gun squads who fought together at Nimy Bridge, defending it against the Germans.

The Crowning Battle of the Great War: The Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel will also have characters connected with a gun, this time the machine gun that was more widely used later in the war, the Lewis Automatic Machine Gun. The soldiers will be young men from South Carolina, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Having lives in South Carolina for nearly twenty years, I want to draw on the resources that surround me (seven military museums in Columbia, four of them at Fort Jackson.) and several experts on the battle.

Australian soldiers training with the Lewis Machine Gun

Australian soldiers training with the Lewis Machine Gun

The Lewis, fully manned, would have a crew of six soldiers: a gunner, a spotter, a guard, and three carrying ammunition. Though the gun could be handled by two, if it was necessary. This blog is to introduce you to the gun. Or it to you.

It will first be in action in the opening chapter. Later Tommy Atkins will present its fine points in a training session he leads for the Americans. Tommy was a major character in the earlier novel. Later still, when we return to the battle a second time we will meet it again, going about its murderous work.

Lewis machine gun in action. Notice the disk in the hands of the soldier to the left. It is filled with either 47 or 97 bullets. The pan sits on top of the gun and rotates as each bullet is fired.

Lewis machine gun in action. Notice the disk in the hands of the soldier to the left. It is filled with either 47 or 97 bullets. The pan sits on top of the gun and rotates as each bullet is fired.

Take a look at it. You will learn more about it in later blogs.