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Great War

WWI Wednesday: When Books Went to War


Charles Buckles Falls, 1918, Books Wanted for Our Men

When the United States entered the war in 1917, the president of the American Library Association (ALA) appointed a War Service Committee, where there was a unanimous decision to supply library facilities in the camps of the American Expeditionary Forces. The Secretary of War appointed ten nationally known men and women to a Library War Council in order to raise funds for the construction and outfitting of these library facilities. The council managed to raise nearly $1.5 million in private subscriptions, and a subsequent campaign for books garnered the donation of over two hundred thousand volumes. In addition, the Carnegie Corporation made a grant of $10,000 for each of the thirty-two camp libraries. Many New York publishers added to the books donated and purchased, providing discounts of 45-50% off book prices, and major university presses also donated their publications. The following is the tale of how the books arrived in France.

The systematic work of the A.L.A. for the American Expeditionary Forces began in January, 1918, when a Dispatch Office was established at Hoboken for the purpose of assembling books and shipping them on transports. The books sent in this way were placed in Y.M.C.A. huts or distributed directly to the men themselves.

An arrangement was worked out by which the A.L.A. agreed to serve the “fit” through the Y.M.C.A. and the “unfit” through the Red Cross. General Pershing pronounced this scheme commendable and the service welcome, and requested from the government space for fifty tons of books per month — which meant more than a million volumes a year — on the transports. With a view to avoiding any duplication of effort, he expressed the desire “that there should not be any competition in supplying this matter to the troops, but that the work should be centralized in the American Library Association.”

The granting of this request and the provision by the Quartermaster Department of a warehouse for the reception of books from the transports, whence they might be distributed at will, made it possible to begin work on an extensive scale. The Fourth of July was suitably celebrated by the delivery of seventy-five books to each of the American hospital trains in France, and as rapidly as possible selected libraries were established in each of the base and camp hospitals for the use of the boys who had been sent down from the front line.

From that time on, books and magazines went everywhere. They were used in the front-line trenches by the man on duty and while waiting for the order to go over the top; in the reserve areas just back of the front; in huts and other places of shelter; in the training camps where the men recently arrived were being fitted for transfer to the front; in the disintegrating areas; especially in the rest camps in the few days of regular surcease from advance operations; at the bases where great establishments grew up at the point of debarkation, and at the more isolated places where the foresters and engineers were working. The aim was to furnish any books the men wanted, whether technical publications, reference works, or standard fiction, and to furnish them at the time when they were wanted. Records taken at random from the file at Headquarters show that at one of the main huts 492 books were used 972 times during the first ten days of the service, and the circulation was limited only by the fact that there were seldom any books on the shelves. Magazines were for trench usage, non-returnable.

In the zone of advance the unit of library service was the Division, no matter over how wide an area it might be spread or through how many villages it might extend. While the Y.M.C.A., the Knights of Columbus, and the Salvation Army aimed to get a hut in at least the chief villages, the A.L.A. found it more feasible to send its books to the divisional center, from which they could be properly distributed. When the Division moved, the books could be returned to the central warehouse of the organization through which they were being circulated, unless the area was being abandoned.

Permanent Headquarters were opened in Paris in April, 1918. In August larger quarters were secured at No. 10 Rue de l’Elysee, in a building leased from the proprietors by the Y.M.C.A., which uses the upper floors for its educational and allied departments, leaving the entire ground floor and basement at the disposal of the A.L.A. The basement is used for packing and stock-rooms, while the arrangement of the ground floor resembles that of the average small library, — entrance and charging desk in the center, reading-room on one side, reference-room on the other, and stack-room in the rear.

Here the administrative offices of the overseas service were established, in charge of Mr. Burton E. Stevenson, the novelist and librarian of Chillicothe, Ohio, and a central reference and circulating library of about ten thousand volumes was started. This library proved very popular with the men in the Paris district. On Sunday afternoons, especially, they crowded around the big open fires to read, or moved quietly about among the bookshelves, hunting for favorite volumes.

To further the overseas work additional dispatch offices were established in the United States, at Newport News, Boston, Philadelphia, and New York. Every available means of getting books to France was used. The Army tonnage provided for about one hundred thousand volumes monthly, twenty-five thousand volumes were sent over on American Red Cross tonnage, and the deck shipments on transports in charge of Y.M.C.A. secretaries added appreciably to the total.

A.L.A. Library War Service, St Denis Hospital, France
A.L.A. Library War Service, St Denis Hospital, France

The records show that up to February 1,1919, a total of one million eight hundred thousand volumes had been shipped to France, and that libraries had been established in six hundred and thirty-eight Y.M.C.A. centers, in forty Knights of Columbus centers, in forty-one Salvation Army centers, in twelve Y.W.C.A. centers, and in five Jewish Welfare Board centers, as well as with a number of miscellaneous welfare organizations, such as the Moose, the American Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Club, and the like.

Each section of the American Ambulance Service had been given a book collection; similar service had been extended to the Americans in the Polish army and the Mallet Reserve, and two hundred and sixty-four military organizations in the A.E.F. had been provided with libraries. By March, the number of books sent overseas had passed the two million mark.

Books were sent not only to France but also to the American troops in England, Italy, Archangel, and Vladivostock, and to American prisoners in Germany. At Aix-les-Bains, the recreation center for the Army, where there was boating, baseball, athletics, Lieutenant Europe’s famous band, and a theater, the A.L.A. had a well-rounded collection of books in the Y.M.C.A.’s casino, with a trained librarian in charge.

In order to provide for members of the A.E.F. on their voyage home, and also to forestall any necessity for draining out of France the books now there, all transports are equipped in American ports with adequate permanent libraries, to remain on board as long as the transport is in service.

Books in the War: The Romance of Library War Service by Theodore Wesley Koch

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WWI Weekly: War Horses, Doughboys, Fourteen Points, and Stravinsky



A weekly round-up of the most intriguing news about the First World War

From the North Devon Journal, a YouTube upload of an exciting video:

A TAPE providing a unique insight into the lives of the region’s war horses and their trainers following the First World War has been unearthed in North Devon.

Cynthia Snowden discovered the recording while sorting through a host of her dad’s old cassette tapes at her home in Northam. Recorded by her father Percy Reed in 1984, the tape is believed to reveal how Cynthia’s grand father brought a former war horse to their then family home in Combe Martin. Reading in traditional Devon dialect, Cynthia has now transcribed the tale to share with others in North Devon. She said she wanted to share the tale because “little has been said about the horses that made it home after the First World War”.

She added: “Percy Reed, came from Combe Martin but I don’t know where. His father, Tom Reed kept horses for the bread delivery round.”

From the Deseret News, an article about President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points, drafted with the aim of creating peace and making certain a war of this magnitude would never happen again:

In April 1917, the United States entered the war alongside Britain, France and a tottering, quasi-democratic Russian regime. When Wilson asked for a declaration of war against Germany, the president stated firmly, “The world must be made safe for democracy.” Having dispatched Gen. John J. “Black Jack” Pershing to France, the United States quickly began to build up a major military force in Europe.

Wilson desired to the see a speedy conclusion to the war. Many of the Allied states, however, had proclaimed that they intended territorial annexation, indemnities and other conditions. Wilson feared that the nationalist goals of America’s allies would make peace difficult to conclude. Certainly Germany would not lay down its arms if it was expected to hand over sizable territories and pay huge sums of money.

Also, Wilson appreciated that despite the new level of technological barbarity, World War I was essentially being waged as a 19th century conflict — one in which “might made right,” and where the winner made the loser pay heavily for the defeat. Wilson hoped, some believed naively, to introduce a new level of idealism into international relations and end World War I in such a manner as to radically alter the way nations conducted themselves. Critically, Wilson hoped, war itself could be abolished from the civilized world.

From the North Jersey News, a commemoration celebration and tales of WWI heroes:

Many stories of Rutherford soldiers closely parallel important events of World War I, particularly in that critical period of Sept. 26 through Oct. 18, 1918 when General John Pershing’s AEF launched the Meuse-Argonne offensive. This was one of several attacks planned to drive the Germans from their defense of the Hindenburg Line, a strategy that would precipitate the German surrender.

Four Rutherford soldiers were killed during these strategic maneuvers. Lowell Wellsley Conrad, who lived on Carmita Avenue, was killed in action on Sept. 29, a date that Rutherford should never forget. Charles Hugo Schneider and Thomas Hewitt Everett were both killed on that day. Arthur Lamon Burroughs Leader, a Rutherford Trust clerk killed on Oct. 18, had just written his parents that he was one of eight of a 150-man company who survived the armed violence of Sept. 29. It was also during this bloody fracas that another Rutherford soldier – Sergeant John Cridland Latham – displayed “conspicuous gallantry” in saving the lives of two American soldiers.

From the Centenary News, Turkey’s commemoration of their role in WWI and its impact on Turkish society:

The exhibition promises an insight into the cultural exchanges that took place during the First World War, including artistic activities, reciprocal visits, and the coordination and production of propaganda tools.

Among the highlights is a rare album of plates by the Austrian war artist, Wilhelm Viktor Krausz.

Dating from 1915-16, ‘Paintings and Drawings from Turkey’ contains the first known portrait of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, defender of Gallipoli and founder of the post-war Republic of Turkey.

‘Propaganda and War, The Allied Front during the First World War’ draws on artefacts and memorabilia from the Ömer M. Koç Collection. It runs at Koç University Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations (RCAC), Istanbul, until March 22nd 2015.

An academic conference is being held at RCAC on January 10th 2015 to accompany the exhibition. ‘Ideology, Propaganda, and War: The Ottomans in the Great War’ features historians from Turkey and overseas. The event is open to the public.

From the Kansas City Public Media, a podcast discussion of music and modernism on the outbreak of WWI:

Kansas City Symphony music director Michael Stern calls the years leading up to World War I “a perfect storm.” There was the shock of the new – a shift from horses to cars, from gas to electric light, from agriculture to industry.

“So by the time we get to 1914 and the world explodes, if people had been listening and watching, especially listening to music, you could have forseen this kind of incredible shift,” he says.

This moment, especially before the war, was fascinating for Stern. The Symphony’s classical season is organized around this theme with composers like Maurice Ravel, Jean Sibelius, Claude Debussy and Igor Stravinsky.

On Thursday, Stern led a morning rehearsal at Helzberg Hall, with the Symphony packed on stage and additional musicians in, to perform Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.

“This piece is as elemental and hits you in the gut, just as it must have the first time it was played,” he says.

It reportedly caused a riot when it premiered in Paris in 1913, the year before the war broke out.

“Of course, the savagery, which was also a reflection of what the world was about to turn into, was all there,” says Stern. “But there’s also this kind of lurking, searching, unfulfilled human expectation, which was the unrest at the time.”

From the Indian Express, the presence of Indian soldiers on the Western Front:

In a tiny village on the border between Belgium and Lille, a town on the northern tip of France, residents are well acquainted by Khudadad Khan’s name. The infantry soldier from the 129th Duke of Connaught’s Baluchis regiment fought valiantly for British India during the First World War. He was rewarded with the first ever Victoria Cross, the highest military decoration given to a person of South Asian origin. A portrait of the man, wearing a turban and and one of his arms bandaged, occupies a part of the wall at the Twin Art Gallery in the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts.

West Michigan pilot recreating authentic, flyable World War I-era biplane

Kozura, 48, who lives with wife Linda in Comstock Park, has been fascinated by the British-built Sopwith Camel for as long as he’s been interested in flying, which is to say nearly his whole life, including 11 years in the Air Force followed by serving as a pilot for Northwest Airlines for four years.

He then founded his own flight school based out of the airport in Sparta, and currently is employed as a principal operations inspector for the Federal Aviation Administration.

His love affair with the Sopwith blossomed in a big way while surfing online, when he happened upon a dash clock for the fabled single-seat biplane fighter introduced on the Western Front in 1917. Kozura purchased it, and then figured it’d be nice to install that piece in a real instrument panel.

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WWI Wednesday: After Dark in London


Zeppelin over London

Karl Kingsley Kitchen (1883-1935) was an American journalist and man-about-town who wrote witty columns for various New York newspapers chronicling his travels, his meals, and his famous supper party guests. In his 1916 book, After Dark in the War Capitals, Kitchen describes the appearance of various European capitals under the shadow of war. Though his anecdotes are written with his witty flair, the tension and strain of living under threat of attack is palpable.

Of all the war capitals that I have visited—including Berlin, Vienna and Budapest—London is outwardly the most affected by the war. Naturally the darkened streets bring this fact home to the visitor. But as a matter of fact, there are more signs of war in evidence in the daytime in London than in any other of the large capitals.

In the first place the city is filled with soldiers. In the continental capitals there are plenty of soldiers in evidence but here in London they are ten times as numerous. Wherever you turn you encounter men in uniforms. Recruiting stations dot the town and they are usually surrounded by khaki clad men who are trying to win recruits; soldiers are heard as well as seen.

In the second place a large number of the soldiers are wearing bandages or limping with the aid of canes.

The restrictions in regard to liquor selling also bring the war home to the visitor in London, as well as to the native. The public houses, as the saloons are called, are open only five and one-half hours out of the twenty-four. Only between 12 and 2 in the afternoon and 6 and 9:30 in the evening is it possible to buy a drink in a cafe or restaurant.

While visitors in London do not have to have their passports examined by the police as in continental capitals—unless you remain longer than twenty-eight days—the forms that have to be filled out at the hotels and boarding houses are as annoying as the police inspectors. And if any important detail about your future plans is missing you receive a visit from a very polite detective who clears up the situation to his satisfaction.

The street lamps along the entire distance [from Fenchurch Station to the Savoy, where Kitchen was staying] were painted black, allowing only the dimmest rays to fall on the pavement, and every building was in total darkness. Only the head and tail lamps on the taxicabs and dimly lighted buses revealed the way, but my chauffeur sped ahead seemingly unmindful of the danger. Half a dozen times I expected to crash into the slow moving vehicles which were in our path.

I do not recall visiting London during the middle ages, but I doubt if its streets were as dark in those days, or rather nights, as they are to-night. Certainly they must have been safer, for speeding taxicabs did not exist in those times. And when it is remembered that darkness falls in London long before 6 o’clock at this time of the year the confusion and danger resulting from this situation is apparent. Of course, one gets used to it in time. In fact, after four or five nights of darkness I became reconciled to it.

Of course, it is absurd to state that the authorities have put these regulations in effect for any other reason than a well-grounded fear of Zeppelins.[..] when you ride about the city and see numerous buildings that have been wrecked by Zeppelin bombs, searchlight stations, and anti-aircraft guns you begin to realize that war is at your very door. You never know what night the Zeppelins will be dropping bombs on your hotel and despite the fact that you might welcome a raid for the pleasurable excitement of seeing a Zepp in action it must be admitted that Berlin and Vienna have the advantage of London in this respect.

However, this has not caused as great a change in the city’s life as one would suppose. Instead of remaining in their homes the people find their way about in the dark. True, the streets are not as crowded as they used to be, but if the people have any place to go they are not deterred by the darkness. After the brilliantly lighted streets of Berlin and Budapest, London is a decided contrast. But more goes on in the dark in London than in some of the well lighted continental capitals.

Among the working classes there is great contempt for the Zepps. Of course much of this is bravado but a surprisingly large number of people believe it is their duty to disregard Germany’s efforts to strike terror in their hearts. They make many jokes at the kaiser’s expense and one of the most popular dishes in the restaurants is “Two Zepps and a stack of clouds”—-sausages and mashed potatoes.

In spite of the fact that London is dark at night and that several hundred men, women and children have been killed and injured in addition to considerable damage to both public and private property—the Zeppelin raids must be accounted failures up to date. The only thing they have accomplished has been to increase the hatred toward the Germans. A great deal has been printed about the hatred in Germany of the English, but it does not equal the hatred toward the Germans by the English. The bitterness of this hatred is apparent on every side. And it is carried to an absurd degree. To be seen reading a German newspaper or overheard speaking German is sufficient to provoke a riot. Everything German is under the ban. The kaiser is spoken of as a criminal of the lowest type and the German people are charged with every vice and crime on the calendar.

There is very little feeling against the Austrians, who are regarded as German dupes. And, of course, there is even less feeling against the Hungarians. Still the latter have been interned in England, although the English in Hungary have not been molested.