Tag Archives: World War I

Rubber Boot Manufacture and Memorial Sculpture

Rubber boot sculptureWhile almost all the books and documents and literature about World War I concentrate on battles and soldiers, there had to be immense support in areas of life that we don’t ordinarily consider. Once the war turned from mobile to entrenched, the new conditions called for items that had not been needed before. Because the trenches became places where rain water collected (this part of France being especially rainy and swampy) leather boots were no longer practical. Trench foot (taking its name from where the disease flourished) meant that the soldiers’ feet needed to be protected by keeping water out. Hence,

Boot sculpture honours rubber factory’s war heroes

Artists Svetlana Kondakova and Maja Quille’s work is titled ‘Imprint’

A new sculpture has been unveiled to commemorate an Edinburgh factory which saved thousands of soldiers from trench foot during World War One. The North British Rubber Company, which stood for decades beside the Union Canal in Fountainbridge, made rubber boots for the British Army from 1914.

The soldiers called these “gum boots” since they were made of rubber. They were an object of joking. See references to them in the Wipers Times, a clandestine satirical newspaper British soldiers printed in the trenches. Wipers is the British way of saying Ypres.

Naturally, the need for many articles called for factories (canvas, rope, rifle stocks, medicines, and many more) to produce products in massive quantities, quantities never before needed. More of these later.



A Military Hospital in an Underground Quarry

The table and chair were found just where they are here.
This quarry had been used long ago. Very likely the stone became part of a church.

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.

Interior of the hospital in a quarry in France.
Interior of the hospital in a quarry in France.


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 table and chair were found just where they are here.
The table and chair were found just where they are here.

Wexford Born Soldier was Angel of Mons Hero in the Great War

The Angel of Mons is a legend, not a fact. Consequently, there is no version that can

Angel of Mons Sergeant Thomas Fitzpatrick
Angel of Mons Sergeant Thomas Fitzpatrick

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.

A Newspaper Report from 1914 — The Angel of Mons

Yet another image of Angels protecting the British Army

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.”

The Answer to My Question

A Russian magazine: The German Kaiser as a devil.
A Russian magazine: The German Kaiser as a devil.

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.”


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

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.

The Doudou and “The Angel of Mons: A World War I Legend

Each Trinity Sunday in Mons, Belgium two important ceremonies are performed. In the morning the sacred relics of St. Waudru, abbess of a collegiate convent she founded in the Seventh Century, are paraded through the streets, carried on the carte d’or, a cart covered in gold leaf. Later in the day, the city celebrates the battle between St. George and the dragon. There are records from 1440 the ceremony was already ancient. The Ducasse de Mons, the Doudou, and the Lucomon are names for the same ceremony.

The cart d'or containing the relics of St. Waudru
The cart d’or containing the relics of St. Waudru

In April, 2015 Mons opened five new museums. One is dedicated to the history of the Doudou.

The Ducasse de Mons celebrations are recognized as one of the UNESCO Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

Read about the ceremonies and their connection to the Angel of Mons: A World War I Legend in Chapter Four, “The Priest’s Sermon: St. George and Mons.”

The Doudou version of the dragon who St. George defeats.
The Doudou version of the dragon who St. George defeats.

There are several YouTube presentations of the ceremony worth seeing. I am not sure I would like to be part of the throng myself. Too many people for me.

A scene from the Doudou
A scene from the Doudou
A scene from the Doudou
A scene from the Doudou

A Fascinating Book on Many Levels

This review appeared on Amazon — read and enjoyThe Angel Of Mons

By David Wetzel on June 27, 2015

Format: Kindle Edition

Jerred Metz’s The Angel of Mons is certainly a work of magical realism, but that term fails to describe the shimmering interplay (and interplayfulness) of the real and supernatural in this rich, dense, mythically powerful novel. Based on a legend—or was it?—that grew out of the first battle in World War I between the British and Germans on August 23, 1914, at Mons, Belgium, the story begins with the factual death of Maurice Dease, commander of a Vickers machine gun crew at the Nimy Bridge, and describes a meteorological phenomenon—or was it?—that enveloped and stymied the advancing German army in what many observers described as the image of St. George, allowing the vastly outnumbered British forces to begin an orderly retreat. From there Metz elaborates on that sighting, blending the story of the British retreat through the Forest of Mormal in northern France with visions of Joan d’Arc who guides them to safety along a whispering road cut through the forest, though never discovered in history books. They eventually make it to the British Front by way of other visions and miracles descending on characters both historical and fictional.

If this were the extent of The Angel of Mons, it would be good magical realism. But returning the British forces to safety only begins Metz’s fictional celebration-study of legend and myth. Using the deaths of three key participants—Dease, Malcom Leckie, and Tommy Atkins—Metz takes us into what could be considered the shared Twilight Zone of the Coleridge-Wordsworth dynamic: Coleridge making the ethereal real and Wordsworth making the real ethereal. A secondary cast of characters (who happen to be icons of modern history transmuted into entirely believable fictional counterparts) draw out the mystery of Mons through a superb device: twentieth-century spiritualism and psychic phenomena. We find connections between W. B. Yeats, Arthur Conan Doyle (and his “living” counterpart Sherlock Holmes), and even Winston Churchill—all connected, in some way, with the question of proving communication with the dead. It appears that such proof does exist—if only within Metz’s London of early September 1914.

This is the Coleridge side of the dynamic. But the book ends on the Wordsworth side, with the death, in the very last hour of the war—and again at Nimy Bridge—of Private Atkins. In his exalted afterlife, he speaks directly to the reader as the Angel of Grief and Memory, calling forth an image both apocalyptical and transcendent. The vision seems to come out of the Book of Revelation, the theosophical idea of the Brotherhood, and—well—Moby Dick. Truly, the spiritual and philosophical density of Metz’s The Angel of Mons is much like Melville’s, and it’s filled with character, dialogue, and drama worthy of what we might see and overhear on the decks of the Pequod. In short, it is a fascinating book on many levels.