Category Archives: The Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel

Propaganda through magazine covers

The warring nations used every medium and method to encourage a hatred of

A Russian magazine: The German Kaiser as a devil.

A Russian magazine: The German Kaiser as a devil.

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.

A German View of the British Empire

As I continue my journey through a second World War I novel–working title: A German Map: The British Empire, Scavanger of the WorldBreaking the Hindenburg Line: The Thirtieth Division’s Triumph–I discover interesting “roadside attractions.” Over the next three weeks I will present “maps” of Europe that convey political views, each one characteristic of the country in which it was produced. The illustrations for magazine and newspaper covers and contents graphic represented easily accepted ideas and strongly felt emotions. We can tell that the pictures confirm and reinforce the nation’s readers’ view. These three examples of such propaganda make their messages clear, even when we do not understand the language.

Please send me a translation of the caption.

I would love to see your comments about the maps.

 

One of the Pleasures of Writing II

One thing about the projects that is about subjects that are limited in scope s that people who are expert in the topic enjoy sharing what we know with other experts. Several weeks ago I wrote about Mitch Yockelson of the National Archives in Maryland. There is another expert in the actions of the federalized Thirtieth Division, Old Hickory, and the 118th Regiment, soldiers from South Carolina.

He is Jim Legg, military archaeologist, University of South Carolina. About a year ago we talked about the Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel and exchanged e-mail addresses. Then, by chance and good fortune, I was finishing a presentation at the South Carolina Civil War Relics Room and Military Museum while Jim was installing an exhibit of some of his World War I trench maps. A week later Jim took me on a tour of the maps, from which I learned a lot about World War I military cartography and cartographers.

Since then we’ve met twice. After the first Jim lent me a ledger box filled with Thirtieth Division files (one box of three) for me to use. The second visit he lent me a rare and greatly treasured 243 page The Thirtieth Division in World War I (1936.) The book is filled with wonderful photographs, maps, drawings, and text. In return, I have told him of discoveries I am making. It is likely that I will use Jim’s artillery bombardment map for the battle of Bellicourt Tunnel for the Thirtieth Division as a cover for my novel, The Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel.

An Article from a newspaper in Swindon, England

Sometimes I run across items that are only tangentially related to my writing. This article is one such. The main feature, in addition to the facts the story reveals, is that I had a wonderful visit to Swindon on my most recent research trip to England. It so happens that a major private collection of Vickers Machine Guns and related materials are owned and curated by Richard Fisher of Swindon. I spent a long afternoon with him and his collection last April. Before that we had communicated through e-mail. I had many questions about the operation of the gun, training of the soldiers who used it, the specific jobs of the six soldiers assigned to each gun. His information made what I wrote about the gun accurate and authentic.

There are many fascinating items in his collection. Among them is a simple device to measure whether an airplane was close enough to the gun to warrant shooting at it. It consisted of a strip of steel about three inches long and an inch wide with three holes bored in it, each of a different diameter, and a cord about 18 inches long. The soldier would hold the end of the string at his ear lobe, stretch it to its full length and look through the holes. Only when the plane filled the largest hole would it be close enough to be worth firing at.

In addition to a myriad of Vickers artifacts, Richard has collected three hundred Vickers training manuals. The most interesting one to me is a manual in Urdu translated into that language and transliterated, so a trainer who did not speak the language could read the material to soldiers he was training in their language without needing to know Urdu. This means that someone needed to be able to translate from English to Urdu and someone (maybe the same person) needed to be able to transliterate it into English.

This was one example of the lengths to which armies went to fight the war.

If you have not yet read The Angel of Mons: A World War I Legend you are missing out on a fascinating story.

I am also at work on the sequel to the novel, this one about a battle in which Americans, and South Carolinians, North Carolinians, and Tennesseans played a central role.

One of the Pleasures of Writing II

Thirtieth Division in the World WarOne thing about the projects that is about subjects that are limited in scope s that people who are expert in the topic enjoy sharing what we know with other experts. Several weeks ago I wrote about Mitch Yockelson of the National Archives in Maryland. There is another expert in the actions of the federalized Thirtieth Division, Old Hickory, and the 118th Regiment, soldiers from South Carolina.

He is Jim Legg, military archaeologist, University of South Carolina. About a year ago we talked and exchanged e-mail addresses. Then, by chance and good fortune, I was finishing a presentation at the South Carolina Civil War Relics and Military Museum while Jim was installing an exhibit of some of his World War I trench maps. A week later Jim took me on a tour of the maps, from which I learned a lot about World War I military cartography and cartographers.

Since then we’ve met twice. After the first Jim lent me a ledger box filled with Thirtieth Division files (one box of three) for me to use. The second visit he lent me a rare and greatly treasured 243 page The Thirtieth Division in World War I (1936.) The book is filled with wonderful photographs, maps, drawings, and text. In return, I have told him of discoveries I am making. It is likely that I will use Jim’s artillery bombardment map for the battle of Bellicourt Tunnel for the Thirtieth Division as a cover for my novel, The Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel.

One of the Pleasures of Writing

One of the pleasures of writing is meeting with people who are expert in what I am writing about. One such person, Mitch Yockelson, Ph.D., works for the National Archives in College Park, MD. The author of Borrowed Soldiers: Americans under British Command, he is one of the most knowledgeable writers about the Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel, and, specifically the 30th and 27th Divisions of the American Expeditionary Force’s II Corps. Soldiers from South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee principally made up the 30th. These soldiers are the main characters in the novel I am writing about them in the Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel.

The British saved the bridge less than a mile south of Bellicourt Tunnel

The British saved the bridge less than a mile south of Bellicourt Tunnel

Dr. Yockelson and I conversed at the National Archives.

When we were saying good bye he said that he admires historical novelists, books like my own The Angel of Mons. I answered that I marvel at historians who can write books like Borrowed Soldiers. His book is ripe with detail, drawing on a vast store of resources. I got a good of who these American soldiers were, and what brought them to this battle. Since I have a special need for the information, I am grateful to Dr. Yockelson to have undertaken the writing of this record.

Already, I have met with others expert in facets of the battle. These memorable meetings and friendships are one of the great pleasures for me.

The Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel and Dante’s Divine Comedy

Dante's tomb 2

Where Dante’s Bones are Buried

Our daughter’s first name is Ravenna. I knew that Ravenna, Italy was once the capitol of the Byzantine Empire. Beyond that, I knew that it has churches from that time group of that decorated inside with world-renown amazing mosaics. It was always our plan to someday visit Ravenna with our daughter. Last month we made that trip. Truly, the mosaics were astounding.

Dante Alighieri's tomb in Ravenna, Italy

Dante Alighieri’s tomb in Ravenna, Italy

A highlight of the visit to Ravenna for me was a visit to the tomb of Dante, the poet. Exiled, he spent the final years of his life there. This year is the 750th year since his birth. Over the years I read the three books that make up his Divine Comedy. I taught The Inferno a couple of times. The epic poem is one of the greatest literary creations of Western Civilization, for several reasons.

Part of my plan for The Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel is to use the structure of Dante’s Divine Comedy as a pattern. In literary terminology, this is called a trope. I was deeply moved, nearly to the point of tears and sobs (but I have that response at times, like at the military cemeteries at Mons, Belgium and Bony, France.)

I will incorporate the three levels of the afterlife that the Divine Comedy treats–Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven.

I know that at some time in the near future I will go back to Ravenna—first, to marvel at the mosaics we did not get a chance to see in the few days we were there, and second, to spend time with Dante and visit the Dante museum. We had “The Kid” along, my two-year-old grandson. His interest in churches, mosaics, and museums was naturally limited. He needed action.

The Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel — Beginning Thoughts

Naturally, like many writers, I am attracted to stories of

Marker commemorating the breaching of the Hindenburg Line

Marker commemorating the breaching of the Hindenburg Line

the extraordinary, the unique, the mythic. A look at the titles of my prose books make this clear. Thus, there must be something extraordinary, unique, and mythic in the Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel. Of course, this could be said of almost all accounts of battle. There is always heroism, gallantry, courage, horrible circumstances to be overcome, and just the simple problems of weather and terrain. Good confronts evil. There is victory and defeat. There is folly and wisdom, tactics, strategy, deception. Often, presumably there is divine intervention. Surely, each side prays to its deities–often to the same deity–for victory. Signs are read in the elements. Chaplains and the soldiers pray for it. There are personalities, the language of the military. This novel contains these. A canal tunnel three miles long, the plateau it lies beneath being the one reasonable place for the Allies to finally, after all these years, breach the Hindenburg Line.

What lies within the tunnel?

The Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel

For the next several months I will be writing about my next novel. The title might end up being The Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel. Having written about one of the first battles of World War I, I decided to write one about one of the last battles. This will be the first time I have written two books about the same topic.

Marker commemorating the breaching of the Hindenburg Line

Marker commemorating the breaching of the Hindenburg Line

For some time I had been looking for a South Carolina story to write about. As it happened, T soldiers from South Carolina, Tennessee, and North Carolina fought in the Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel. The battle’s significance is that this was the first time soldiers fighting for the Allies breached the Hindenburg Line. The battle was fought on September 29, 1918. The war ended less than two months later, on November 11, 1918. Stay tuned. Get ready. Clean your reading glasses. The book will be out by the beginning of 2017.