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Sunday, 29 June 2014


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Everyone hated it

That would have been news to my maternal grandfather [Gallipoli 1915, France and Belgium 1916 to 1918]. When I was but a little person he would tell me of the horrors of war when Granny was around and when she wasn't it would be how much fun he and his mates had in France and Belgium until he got gassed. My paternal gf said bugger all about it but it gave him a break from gm who was a right old biddy.

Still it is heartbreaking to visit the Australian War Cemeteries in Villers Brettoneux and around Ypres and read the ages of those from his generation who are buried there.

That, I suspect, sums up the feelings of the vast majority of soldiers in most wars.

"After all these decades in which Congressman Cardin has been elected by the people of Maryland have they not yet realised what a total prat he is?"

They also elected Barney Frank and Ted Kennedy, so I suspect no.

'When will they ever learn, when will they learn?'
Another artist--"Meet the new boss, same as the old boss...we won't get fooled again"

Dom, Franks and Kennedy are from Massachusetts not Maryland. However they (I did not vote for them) also elected Barbara Milkulski, Elijah Cummings and Chris Van Hollen. Those are the top 4 idiots.

I have seen Elijah Cummings, possibly the ugliest politician in the USA.

I can't help wondering if there is a factory that produces these people. Perhaps it is next to the one in California that churns out all those bulbous blondes with fright-white teeth. There's certainly one 'over here' and you can have a choice of posh ones like Dave or pleb ones for the 'Party of the People'. In the end they cost the same!

"I can't help wondering if there is a factory that produces these people."

Not a Dem. Then strictly speakin' - neither a pol but - if thar be a factory, it makes "models" fer every persuasion.

Oh, I am sorry about my misreading!

Not all the WW1 was on the Western Front. Yet this sort of implies that was it.
Dare it be said that , as well, a lot of the soldiers in WW1 were German.

Thank you, JK, for explaining "turd blossom", a term you used in your private e-mail to me which left me with a large question mark over my head!

Of course, you are right, John, but I think the original programme was deliberately concentrating on the British myths that have arisen since the event.

A "Rose" by any other name I'll espect you'll be using it for future events I'm to be expecting then David?

'Cepting of a matter of course, our ... well mine actually, and maybe the Chinaman's (wheelie bin jokes aside) Dearest Andra! ... well.

We'll be agreeing "Our Sand Gemturd" "Our Outback"?

The one thing I'ma thinking we'll be agreeing to in this case is using my hillbilly fa goldurns certain! prefixerator rather than your'ns, I never managed to get quite right?

Er, yes, JK, or, perhaps, er, no . . . whatever . . .

My Great-Grandfather (see photo at link below - he's the one kneeling with the blanket roll) only ever told my Granny one specific war story, which was about how in 1918 (presumably either as part of a forward observer group or on a gun designated for close / anti-tank support) he was invited by a bunch of infantrymen to share a meal which turned out to be their CO's dog - supposedly it was killed by enemy action. By 1918 German rations were wretched and a can of British corned beef was a prized delicacy.

He seems to have had quite a pleasant time of it at first (autumn 1914 to summer 1916) until his division moved from their quiet sector northwest of Reims to the southern part of the Somme front (against the French). His regiment was then transferred to a new division at the end of 1916 and spent the next year defending Austrian Galicia against the collapsing Russian Army, definitely a cushy posting compared to the alternatives in 1917.

I'm in the final stages of writing a book specifically about the Saxon experience of the war in Flanders, presenting mainly unpublished primary sources (diaries, letters and photographs) in the context of the wider history of the units in question. For much of the time a lot of German servicemen seem to have lived a pretty tolerable existence, interspersed with periods of grinding misery and unspeakable suffering. However it definitely got steadily worse for them as the war progressed and the British blockade really began to bite.

First of all, Andi, welcome to D&N and it is always good to hear how it was on the opposite side of 'no man's land'.

I do not think it was the blockade alone that won the war but it was hugely important and that is why, of all the battles fought, the Battle of Jutland was the most important. If Fisher had lost, it would have been us suffering blockade not Germany.

Take a look at Andi's evocative photo via this link:

Thankyou. I am highly sceptical of the ability of the Kaiserliche Marine to enforce a blockade of anything like the same effectiveness on the British Isles, but Jutland was certainly highly significant. I would say that the Marne was the most important.

That photo was taken at the railway station in Dresden-Neustadt (the bit north of the river which contains the barracks district) at some point in autumn 1914. My Great-Grandad Arno Bierast volunteered for the artillery (4. Kgl. Sächs. Feldartillerie-Regiment Nr. 48) at Dresden in August after dodging Russian internment in Helsinki. As you can see they made him a Gefreiter (lance-corporal) before he even got to the front - sadly we don't know if he got higher than that as the latest photos we have are from 1916. We do know that he was with the regiment for the duration, winning the Iron Cross 2nd Class and Saxon Friedrich August Medal in bronze. He survived unscathed apart from a typical case of 'gunner ear' and early baldness.

So, not only a brave man but lucky, too!

Yes, you're right, the Marne was important because if it had been lost France would probably have fallen and your country would have control of the Atlantic ports. This would have stretched our navy to the limit.

The interesting thing is that the British general, angry with the constant French withdrawals was all for leaving the line and marching to Bordeaux to be picked up by our navy. Fortunately, his political masters in London ordered him back into the line and in the course of doing so he inadvertently slipped through a gap in the German line which caused the German generals to panic and draw back. The 'race to the channel' ensued, the trenches were dug and the Schlieffen plan (as amended and weakened by Moltke) was finished.

That is why I give a military history talk entitled "How the Germans Lost WW1 in the First Six Weeks". A slight exaggeration, I know, but I like to think that Schlieffen would have recognised its essential truth.

"Might be" of some help.

My Great-Grandfather was brave and also canny - volunteering for the artillery rather than waiting for a likely call-up to the infantry may have saved his life (if not his hearing). FAR 48 lost 344 all ranks dead of all causes (enemy action, illness and accidents) during the war, whereas e.g. Leibgrenadier-Regiment 100 (in the same division until the end of 1916) lost about ten times as many. Not only that but FAR 48 actually suffered worse than any other Saxon field artillery regiment, mainly in two awful battles in 1918 (18th July onwards near Soissons and 30th September onwards north of St. Quentin) where the infantry collapsed and the gun line became the front line.

He also had the moral fibre and bloodymindedness in the 1930s to resist Nazi attempts to take over the white-collar conservative trade union (the DHV) of which he was regional leader for Saxony. After its forcible absorption by the Nazi state trade union (DAF) he became involved with other former DHV leaders in Berlin in conspiracy against the regime, something he never talked about but which is documented in his papers (including a signed post-war affidavit from the first leader of the CDU). In the event of a successful assassination and coup on 20th July 1944 he would have been part of the new government, tasked with dismantling the DAF in Saxony. Fortunately for him and his family, the man who could have named him (DHV national leader Max Habermann) bravely committed suicide in Gestapo custody without doing so - my GGF was interrogated but they didn't manage to pin anything on him. He then survived the Battle of Berlin and died peacefully in the 1950s.

I've never studied the Marne in detail, although I should as it was the last campaign in which the Royal Saxon Army fought as a single body (German 3. Armee). Surely if the French had collapsed Britain would have come to a negotiated settlement and the whole wretched business could have actually been over by Christmas? I'm not sure about the Russians, due to the extraordinarily erratic and irrational nature of most of their major decisions (starting with the decision to support the terrorism of the Serbian 'deep state' against fellow royals).

He certainly was canny, Andi, in my infantry days we used to refer to the gunners as '9-mile snipers'!

You have a fascinating history there, have you thought of writing a book on the subject? I believe it is fairly easy to e-publish books these days.

I don't know of any books concentrating solely on the battle of the Marne but you might find these fairly slim volumes useful:

"Helmuth von Moltke and the origins of the First World War" by Annika Mombauer who, judging by her name, has German connections but who is actually a university lecturer in the UK.

Also, another good, single volume history is "Imperial Germany and the Great War 1914-1918" by Roger Chickering, an American academic.

I do not believe the British would have settled with Germany had they been driven out of Europe and the French defeated. Apart from the legal point that we went to war on behalf of neutral Belgium, we could not have accepted a German navy with Atlantic/Mediterranean ports because the risk to our trade routes would have been too dangerous.

I'm not sure, Andi, if you are German or Anglo-German but your English is excellent.

I'm not planning on writing another book in a hurry, as the present one has been utterly exhausting (since I've been in full-time employment throughout). Unfortunately there are some large gaps in the available documentation of my Great-Grandfather's story, and my Granny was not privy to much of it. Another interesting episode in his life was before WW1, when he worked in the German colony of Kamerun / Cameroon, ultimately running a trading post in the interior. Apparently he had some sort of experience while in Africa which made him distinctly hostile to the British Empire, but we've no idea precisely what it might have been. He mellowed on the subject of Britain later in life (certainly after his daughter married a Tommy in the aftermath of WW2), but seems to have maintained his other convictions - including unrelenting hostility to radical socialism, 'national' or otherwise - until his death.

I'm Anglo-German, or more precisely Anglo-Saxon (though that tends to confuse people), and ENglish is my first language. My interest in WW1 was initially from the family history angle, but has broadened to encompass the Royal Saxon Army as a whole. I rarely study the big strategic / diplomatic picture in detail as the Kingdom of Saxony didn't have any meaningful say at that level after 1866 (we have at least one ancestor who fought in that war too as well as 1870-1, but sadly no photos of him). Sadly although highly successful in the economic and cultural spheres (you wouldn't think it now after decades of Soviet collaborationist dictatorship, but it was the case in 1914) Saxony hasn't had much success in war or international politics since the middle ages.

Given what Germany has been through - twice - in the last century I can understand the dearth of detailed information on particular formations during WWI.

However, to set you GGF's experiences in a wider context it's worth understanding the Prussian/German way of war, in particular, the rise of the Prussian/German General Staff, perhaps the greatest collegiate collection of experts on warfare ever seen. The fact that on the really great decision they were wrong provides a bitter and sour irony given the death and destruction that followed.

The very best book on the development of the P/G General Staff is by Col. T. N. Dupuy and is entitled "A Genius for War: The German Army and General Staff 1807-1945". Out of print now but you can get second-hand copies from Amazon or Abebooks. It will set WWI in a context that will make the whole disaster understandable.

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