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100D #4 | The Recruitment Ads of Sir Hedley Le Bas

3 Jun

The fourth installment of my ongoing series, The First World War in 100 Documents, is now available at Oxford’s WW1C blog.  In it — inspired by the contents of yet another gift book — I take a look at some of the recruitment ads devised by the prolific Sir Hedley Le Bas (1868 – 1926).  One such ad appears below:

five questions better

The full piece refers to others as well, and looks back as well to a recruitment ad from 1802 calling upon the men of Manchester to join the army and travel at once to Gibraltar.  Be sure to click through to check it out.

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Stylish

1 May

The uniform situation at the start of the war was not, um, uniform.  Infantrymen wore all sorts of things, depending on their national background; the German field grey is already well known, and the initial French uniform of blue jacket and red trousers has assumed an iconic status (though it would not last — the war saw to that).

The Belgian Garde Civique, for my money, had all of them beat:

It’s not every unit that goes boldly into battle wearing top hats.

Interestingly, as John Terraine notes in The Smoke and the Fire (1980), this almost-civilian attire may have accounted in some small manner for the ruthless treatment of the Belgian people by the invading German army.  As Ludendorff declared, “the Garde Civique, which in the days of peace had its own arms and special uniforms, were able to appear sometimes in one garb and sometimes in another.”  He said this in support of his claim that the Belgian government had been “systematically organizing civilian warfare,” and that consequently the incredibly harsh and murderous treatment of Belgian civilians by the German infantry was intended to thwart an entrenched system of francs-tireurs (that is, “free-shooting” partisans) — a system of which no modern historical inquiry has found any real evidence.  In any event, as Terraine concludes, while it may have been defensible for the German army to claim to have initially responded so harshly because of their mistaken evaluation of these soldiers, it is much less so to say that they must have kept on making the same mistake.

The Leaning Madonna

23 Apr

For much of the war, the town of Albert was a major focal point on the Western Front.  Smack dab in the heart of the Somme sector, the shattered city was an important landmark, staging area and transport hub for those moving around in the region.  Albert itself had a famous internal landmark, too — the Leaning Madonna.

As you can see in the picture above, a statue of the Virgin and Child dangles precariously off of the spire of the city’s church.  Dislodged by artillery fire early in the war, the Virgin seemed subsequently to have been caught eternally in the act of casting the infant Christ down to the earth rather than holding Him up in exultation.  As images go, I suppose, it’s a powerful one.

It was prophesied that, should the Madonna finally fall, the war would end. She never did, however, and it came as something of a surprise afterwards to discover that a work team from the Royal Corps of Engineers had clandestinely bolted her into place under cover of darkness. This may be illustrative of something, but I’m not sure precisely what.

A close shave

22 Apr

Not much background to provide on this one, I’m afraid — just a British infantryman, c. 1917, saucily displaying the helmet that saved his life:

Helmets of this sort, it should be noted, were not readily available to the infantry at the war’s outset.

Production began in the summer of 1915 once the various powers’ war economies had been able to acclimate to the need for widescale production of such items in the millions. By the end of 1915 they were being regularly provided to front-line troops; by the middle of 1916 they were commonplace everywhere.

The British had the familiar bowl-shaped tin hat of the Tommy, the Brodie design as seen above (this was also used by the Americans, eventually); the Germans went from a steel Pickelhaube to the flat-topped bucket that is now so familiar to us from the second war; the French settled on the iconic Adrian helmet, with its ridge and crest along the top — very much like what we’d now view as a fireman’s helmet, but without the extended guard over the nape of the neck.

It’s worth noting that attempts were also made to produce workable body armour for infantry use during the war, but it never quite caught on in the same way everywhere. The Germans produced millions of units, often with mobile troops in mind; the French and the British tended to reserve it for those doing certain necessarily static jobs, given the weight.

Over the Top

11 Apr

In this dynamic photograph, a French colonel holds his regiment’s flag aloft as they charge somewhere near the Marne in 1915:

A Bas Berlin

ff

Interested Parties

10 Apr

When the Treaty of Versailles was finally signed on June 28th, 1919, the Hall of Mirrors was so packed with dignitaries, diplomats and other officials that not everyone was able to fit.  In this evocative photograph, we see some of those consigned to the overflow making use of any furniture at their disposal to ensure that they were still able to catch a glimpse of the historic occasion:

“This is not Peace. It is an armistice for twenty years.”

The Tsar at Play

9 Apr

This is really pushing this blog’s “culture of WWI” mandate, but these images are too sensational to pass up.

The year is 1899. . Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, in an astounding break from the stern, often exasperated persona that he otherwise emphasized in public, relaxes with friends and members of his extended family.  Confronted with the possibility of photographs being taken, the Tsar and his companions decide to do something… rather odd:

The two-headed eagle in flight

Woah!  One never expects to see images like this coming out of the world of Victorian-era photography, but here they are — and more besides:

Trading places

The Tsar pulls a face with the Princess Ingeborg of Denmark:

An unnamed niece(?) photobombs the pair

The Duchess of Darmstadt makes it clear how happy she is with the proceedings:

Let your smile be your umbrella

The Tsar, Prince Nicholas of Greece, and an unnamed friend do the creep:

Good clean fun

The Princess Ingeborg of Denmark would go on to live a remarkably happy life, dying contentedly in 1958.  Nicholas of Greece would live out his days in Athens, dying more or less untroubled in 1938.  I cannot say what befell the Duchess.  As for Nicholas II, the man you see above would famously go on to lose everything his family had fought to uphold for centuries and would — along with his wife, his children, and several loyal retainers — end up being unceremoniously murdered in a basement in the summer of 1918.  The world can be a merciless place.

The New Reality

8 Apr

A lot has been written about the trauma of the Great War in terms of what it did to the bodies of those who served and what consequently confronted the civilian population once those men began to return to civilian life.  It has been proposed that one of the reasons the war occasioned (if it did) a widespread culture of disillusion and disgust is that, for the first time, civilians were being confronted on a wide scale by men who had survived horribly disfiguring wounds rather than men who had just survived unscathed.  Advances in both chemical and surgical medicine in the years leading up to and during the war ensured that it was, at the time, more likely than ever that one could survive the sort of disfiguring injury that would in earlier wars have simply killed one outright — through infection, or trauma, or both.

And so, these are some of the men who came home — Americans, in this case:

Amputees

The prospects for such men were often dire.  It has become a commonplace that the veterans of the Great War on all sides were not well-taken-care-of upon their return, but things went very hard indeed for those who returned somewhat less than completely able-bodied.  For many such men, a new struggle was only just beginning.

The Kings

5 Apr

Barbara W. Tuchman, in her highly influential The Guns of August (1962), takes as her prologue the funeral rites of Britain’s King Edward VII.  The funeral brought together dozens of heads-of-state from across the world, and occasioned one of the single largest gatherings of royalty in history.  It has never been equaled since, and I should be very surprised to learn that it had been dwarfed by anything before.

It was during this funerary gathering that this remarkable photograph was taken, at Windsor in May of 1910:

Standing, from left to right: King Haakon VII of Norway, King Ferdinand of Bulgaria, King Manuel of Portugal, Kaiser Wilhelm II of the German Empire, King George I of Greece and King Albert I of the Belgium.

Seated, from left to right: King Alfonso XIII of Spain, King George V of Great Britain and King Frederick VIII of Denmark.

There almost appears to be a certain wariness on Albert’s face — perhaps rightly so.

Wilhelm and Nicholas

4 Apr

Pursuant to the previous post containing Theodore Roosevelt’s telegrams to Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and his cousin, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, here’s a remarkable photograph from the same year (1905) showing the two men together:

For reasons I am powerless to provide, the two appear to have switched outfits with one another, right down to the hats.

Roosevelt’s telegrams indicated that the man on the left was shortly to become a hero to all the civilized world, while the man on the right was a sage and august ruler well known for the surety of his command and his love of peace.  Thirteen years after this photograph was taken, the man on the left would be an exile and a disgrace; the man on the right would be dead.