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The networked practitioner in e-learning and the 1914-18 War revisited

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I’ve just read ‘The Sleepwalkers. How Europe went to war in 1914’. By Christopher Clark.

More than any book I have read before on the subject this blows away any myths or propaganda – not least the fact that Germany did not start the war, that award goes to Russia with France’s support. I’d have liked to study this period with the Open University but the History modules simply don’t accommodate this. I’ll therefore be going up to the University of Birmingham, in person, once a month for a mammoth day-long series of tutorials and lectures. That’s as ‘distant’ as it gets with very little online support.

A few weeks ‘out of the loop’ (it’s called a vacation) and I feel the knowledge on e-learning I have gained over the last few years draining away – it is such a vibrant and fast-moving area that I feel I need to refresh and update at every opportunity. This is why I am returning to the Open University to study the module H818 The Networked Practitioner. Having already achieved a Master of Arts in Open and Distance Education earlier this year, H818 and H809 which I completed three months ago, will go towards an MSc in Education; not that I am chasing a qualification, rather I went to keep my thinking alert, current and applied.

There’s a practice based element to this which I’ll apply to an long-held interest in the First World War. There’ll be a lot of interest, reflection and soul-searching over the 100th anniversary from 2014 to 2018. That war is relevant to the Europe and wider Europe we live in today, from Northern Ireland to Syria, via the Balkans and the EU.

How to tell the tragedy of two love stories – the power and construction of memorable narrative

Fig.1.Crown Prince Rudolph of Austria-Hungary – Only son of the Emperor Franz Josef

You are one of the wealthiest and privileged men in the world and likely, by all accounts, to be one of the most powerful men too some day soon, but you are deeply unhappy and married as protocol requires to another European royal.

You are Crown Prince Rudolph of the Austro-Hungarian Empire – wanting for nothing and everything. Your are also crushingly unhappy – the privilege a burden.

Then you fall in love and like royals before you the woman becomes your mistress – two years of bliss are doomed when your father the Emperor demands that it ends. Rather than give each other up you commit suicide, shooting first your 17 year old mistress, then turning the gun on yourself.

Love for a girl and hate for the Empire could only be resolved through violence. The year is 1889.

Fig.2. Archduke Franz Ferdinand, wife the Duchess Sophie of Hohenberg and their children  Sophie 13, Max 10 and Ernst 8 c 1914.

Some two decades later your nephew, the heir presumptive since your own death, appears to have it all – a compromise had been found when he refused to give up the woman he wished to marry in 1890. Archduke Franz Ferdinand, stunningly wealthy, happily married to the Countess Sophie Chotek – the woman he loves, with three healthy children, and trained up through his military career to rule would expect to become the next emperor soon – his grandfather the Emperor Franz Josef is now in his 80s.

Then, on the morning of Sunday 28th June 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s misplaced ‘love’ for his subjects and his unquestioning love for his wife puts them both in an open top tourer on a formal visit to the Austro-Hungarian provincial capital of Sarajevo.

Hate looms in the form of the 19 year old Gravilo Princip, a Serbian nationalist, desperately poor, principled, prepared and determined. Under instructions and guidance from the leaders of the radical Serbian terrorist group ‘The Black Hand’ he finds himself positioned on the route the Archduke will take back and forth through Sarajevo with six others – armed and eager to kill.

In their different ways both Franz Ferdinand and Gravilo Princip disliked what the Austro-Hungarian Empire represented and how it behaved – both had ideas of how the problem could be fixed – Franz through compromise and accommodation – he tabled a federation of Austro-Hungarian states in 1906 -while both Count Rudolph at one end of the scale and Princip at the other, both felt that two bullets from a revolver were the pill that wold fix everything when others controlled your life in a way that you found intolerable.

Two world wars later, nearly 50 million dead and conflict only recently resolved in the Balkans and if there is a one word lesson to take from the 20th century it is ‘Diplomacy’.

(Born Aug 24, 1855, died Feb 12, 1944)

My goal is to find a way into this story – my quest might be over.

I’m doing this as an exercise

I’m taking known facts rather than fiction and using the 1939 book ‘Story Writing’ by Edith Ronald Mirrieless as my guide. Narrative is a powerful tool, but compare a factual account, say of the sinking of the Titanic, with the move. Compare too some botched attempts at the telling of the 1914 Sarajevo assassinations where students recall above all else that Gravilo Princip apparently went into a cafe to buy a sandwich when he say the Archduke’s car outside. There is invention and accuracy, but also responsibility to ensure that the facts that matter and can be corroborated are in the story.

The story I tell will be told by the Infant Marie Theresa of Portugal who married Archduke Karl Ludwig a month before her 18th birthday at Kleinheubach on 23 July 1873.

She would have been 32 when Crown Prince Count Rudolph killed himself. Maria Theresa then stood in for the Empress who retired from court life after her son’s death. She carried out honours at the Hofburg Imperial Palace with the Emperor until 1896 and was instrumental in helping her step-son Franz Ferdinand  fulfill his desire to marry the Countess Sophie Chotek which he achieved in July 1990.

The following details I sourced from various places and will verify and alter in due course. 

It was then Marie Theresa who broke the news of the couple’s death to their children Sophie, Maximilian and Ernst. She also managed to ensure the children’s financial security after telling the Emperor that if he did not grant them a yearly income, she would resign the allowance which she drew as a widow in their favour. (The majority of Franz Ferdinand’s property went to his nephew the Archduke Charles)

When the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed following its defeat in the First World War. After his abdication, Maria Theresa accompanied Karl and his wife Zita into exile in Madeira, but eventually returned to Vienna where she spent the rest of her life.

In 1929, following a decline in her finances, Maria Theresa engaged two agents to sell the Napoleon Diamond Necklace, a piece inherited from her husband, in the United States.

After a series of botched sales attempts, the pair finally sold the necklace for $60,000 with the aid of the grand-nephew of Maria Theresa, the Archduke Leopold of Austria, but he claimed nearly 90% of the sale price as “expenses”. Maria Theresa appealed to the United States courts, ultimately resulting in the recovery of the necklace, the imprisonment of her grand-nephew, and the absconding of the two agents.

Maria Theresa died in Vienna during World War II.

My fascination with the First War will only grow as we approach the 100th Anniversary – here is one day to remember


Fig 1.  The Archduke Francis Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and his wife the Duchess Sofia with his daughter Sophie and son Max. c1907

I plan to select a few hundred days that to my mind mark key moments running up to, through and beyond the First Word War – in each case looking for how events still touch our lives today. Reading this I think of how the Serbs a hundred years ago were fighting to create a national identity free of both the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires – I wonder where the similarities lie with with the Kurds having any national ambitions for a people divided between Turkey, Syria and Iran and Iraq?

Researching events such as this I am shocked at how much passes as truth and how little is told of what was going on.

I have some questions

  • Why were they in an right hand drive car ?
  • Were the streets cleared of other traffic that morning?
  • It was a Sunday so had this Roman Catholic family attended mass?
  • After one attempt on his life did the Archduke not question the risk of going back out onto the street?
  • How many people knew what was going on even after this first attempt on the Archduke’s life and willed the assassins to have a second attempt?
  • There were many opportunities to step back from the abyss in the following weeks but the sides seemed to will it to happen – having put the pieces on the board it was as if the powers wanted to let the game go into play.
  • What lessons have we learnt a century on? That human nature condemns us to repeat this kind of folly?

SUMMARY

At 10.10am on the morning of 28th June 1914 on the way to the Sarjevo Town Hall from the railway station, would-be assassin and Bosnian-Serb nationalist, Nedeljko Čabrinović hurls a bomb at the car carrying the 51 year old Archduke Francis Ferdinand, the heir  to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The bomb bounces off the open hood of the right-hand drive 1911 Gräf & Stift and blows up under the vehicle behind wounding several.

Less than an hour later, and back in this open top chauffeur-driven tourer, the Archduke wants a change to their planned itinerary in order to visit the injured from the earlier bomb explosion.

Simply being in Sarajevo was a provocation that the Archduke had been warned about so to carry on after the first assassination attempt appears like folly.

As the entourage leaves the Town Hall, the car’s owner, Count Harrack, gets up on the running board by the Archduke as if to offer a modicum of protection, though what protection this affords to a hand-thrown bomb or gun-shots from determined assassins is doubtful. The chauffeur turns off the Quay D’Appel following other vehicles into Franz Josef Street as per the original itinerary but is advised, presumably by the front seat passenger Count Potoirek and perhaps Count Harrac or the Archduke himself to stop the car and reverse back onto the Quay D’Appel to go to the hospital.

It is 10.55am.

19 year old Gavrilo Princip, one of the seven armed assassins spread out on the route that morning, sees his opportunity, pulls out a pistol, steps forward from the pavement to the driver-side of the vehicle, aims and shoots at point-blank range. The first bullet hits the Archduke in the neck piercing one of his jugular veins and presumably exiting  the other side of his neck and missing the spine while the second bullet hits his wife the Duchess, Sofia of Hohenberg in the abdomen.

Had Princip meant to shot both to kill? Probably – there was a pattern of established regicide in the group he belonged to.

The car stops.

Men grab the assailant.

The car carrying the Archduke and Duchess heads off again, this time to the safety of the Governor’s House and we assume as part of the convoy of three.

En route the Archduke’s mouth falls open and blood squirts onto Count Harrack’s right cheek.

The Duchess Sofia asks her husband  ‘Was ist mist dir passiert?’

As the Archduke turns his head it topples forward and his plumed hat falls into the car-well; he sees that the Duchess has been hit too and implores that she stay alive for the sake of their three children.

‘Sofia, Für unsere Kinder sterben nicht’.

Sofia dies before they reach the Governor’s house while Franz Ferdinand dies ten minutes later.

Fig.2.  On the right,  Dragutin Dimitrijević with associates – the mind behind this and other successful as well as failed assassinations of royals that got in the way of the creation of a Greater Serb Nation that had support from a pan-slavic notion of shared ‘nationhood’ that took in Russia – their ally in the World War these machinations provoked.

EXTENDED COMMENTARY ON THE EVENTS

To provoke war not only had Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary to die on the morning of Sunday 28th June 1914 but it had to be seen to be the act of a people, not just a lone assassin. This was the case, there was a desire by nationalist Serbs to extricate all Serb land from the Austro–Hungarian Empire just as they had successfully ceded land from the Ottoman Empire in the previous five years. The aim was to create a Greater Serbia – for some violence was the only way to achieve this. Even an assassination attempt, whether successful or not, could have been enough to oblige the Austro-Hungarian Empire to mobilise and send an army into Serbia. The danger was how this would be perceived and interpreted amongst the ‘Great Powers’ of the day given the accords they had troubled over and signed between each other over the previous couple of decades.

The planned itinerary through Sarajevo from the station to the Town Hall was common knowledge.

To increase the odds in favour of success the leadership of the assassination-attempt placed several trained and armed men along the route ready to take their best chance.  Six of the seven armed men : Mehmedbasic, Cabrincvic, Cubrilovic, Princip, Grabez and Illic positioned themselves along the Appel Quay by the River Miljacka, as if planning to hit their target on the way to the Town Hall, while Popovic was on the other side of the road. Any one of them would take a chance from their position if and as it arose whether using a hand thrown bomb with a ten second fuse or a revolver. One of them, Illic, had a roving brief to reposition himself as he felt appropriate. There would be crowds. Movement on the street might be restricted by a throng of people. Traffic, other than the entourage of four vehicles, is likely to have been restricted on the morning. Each of them also had a cyanide pill so that they could, to evade capture and giving away details of the network of their support, commit suicide. This was a conspiracy, never the lone work of a single assassin, it was a well planned plot, involving a network of Serbian support, not least by the Serb Chief of Police,

A convoy of four vehicles left the station at around 10.oo am  – the Archduke and his wife the Duchess Sofia in the third vehicle, an open top tourer.

The streets were busy with onlookers but perhaps not such a throng as to slow the vehicles down and so offer an opportunity for someone to push, then jump forward with a bomb or pointed revolver. Mehmedbasic, the first would–be assassin did nothing as the entourage approached the Cumburja Bridge, then Cabrinovic, the second took armed Serb nationalist assassin took his chance – pushing forward he hurtled a bomb into the open topped tourer – it missed, bouncing off the canopy cover and ending up under the car behind where it exploded, badly wounding the occupants. Cabrinovic tried to evade capture by taking a cyanide pill and jumping into the River Maljacka. The lack of thorough preparation is telling – at the height of summer the river is only a few inches deep and the cyanide pill only made him ill. He was easily caught. Informed of this outcome did the party representing the Austro–Hungarian Empire believe the actions of a lone assassin had been foiled? Little action was taken to indicate that anyone thought there was any further risk. In age of assassination of Royals there is a stubborn inability to accept that circumstances have changed or are changing. Here as we see in the World War that follows, there is considerable inertia that requires things to be done in a certain, prescribed way rather than responding flexibly to changing circumstances.

At 10.10 the Archduke and his wife the Duchess reached the Town Hall as planned.

Not in the mood for pleasantries from dignitaries the Archduke interrupted the Mayor to say that having a bomb thrown at him was hardly what he’d call a friendly welcome. The Duchess pressed her husband to allow the man to go on. Before they left the Town Hall the Archduke demanded a change to his itinerary so that he could visit the wounded from the bomb attack in hospital.

Leaving the Town Hall at around 10.40 the revised route to the hospital should have taken the Imperial visitors straight along the Quay D’Appel

As perhaps the instructions had not been passed down the chain of command further along the Quay D’Appel instead of continuing on the entire entourage turned instead onto the Rue Franz Joseph opposite the Latina Bridge as originally intended. Quickly corrected the chauffeur stopped to reverse back onto the Quay d’Appel – by chance this was exactly the spot where the would-be assassin Princip was standing having crossed from one side of the Quay D’Appel to the other – in position, as planned.

Had he crossed the road to take up a second position expecting the entourage to come this way as per the original plan? It looks like it.

He happens to be outside a pastry store – Schiller’s. It is artistic licence put into a TV drama reconstruction in 2008 that suggests that Princip, knowing he had a good half-hour to go that he went in to for refreshment and sat down to eat, of all things, a sandwich. After the earlier failed attempt on the Archduke’s life it would also be reasonable however to consider the view that the six remaining would–be assassins believed that their chances had now gone – that heightened security or a change in the route back through town would mean that they would have no second chance. On the other hand, knowing how officials behaved, they may have understood that plans once set in motion are rarely altered. In any case, Princip and the  others were acting on orders –  with the Serbian government and security forces tangential to their enterprise.

Fig. 3.  Map of Assassination attempt and assassination of  Archduke Francis Ferdinand and Duchess Sofia 24 June 1914

It is now 10.45 am.

Princip sees the Archduke for the second time, his vehicle static or reversing slowly back onto the Quay d’Appel from Rue Franz Joseph – Princip takes the opportunity that presents itself and acts – he takes out a revolver, steps forward and aims at the Archduke. Nerves, lack of skill with a handgun or the vehicle being put into reverse means that even at less than 6ft a bullet meant for the Archduke’s head hits him in the neck while a second shot, almost certainly meant for the Archduke, hits the Duchess Sofia in the abdomen. Perhaps someone has already grabbed Princip forcing his arm down as he fires the second shot.

As Princip is bundled away, another change is hastily made to the itinerary – this time instead of the hospital, which under the circumstances would have been the better choice, the vehicle heads for the known safety Governor’s mansion.

Still sitting bolt upright in the back of the tourer no one is immediately aware that both the Archduke and Duchess are mortally wounded.

Count Harrac, who still riding on the running board at the Archduke’s side, feels warm, wet blood on his right cheek. Turning to the Archduke he sees that blood is spurting from the Archduke’s open mouth. The Count reaches for a handkerchief which he places on the Archduke’s neck. Sofia speaks to her husband to ask in horror what is wrong. The Archduke turns to his wife and as he slumps forward is shocked to see that she too has been hit. He mutters something about her staying alive for the children.

Princip and the cell or cells acting on the 24th June 1914 did not act alone.

They were part of a secret Serbian military liberation movement that had been formed out of a group calling themselves the ‘Unification of Death’ that had been founded on 6 September 1901 with the aim of shaking off the yolk of the Austro–Hungarian Empire to create a Greater Serbia that united Serb speaking people – assassinating heads of state at a time and in a part of the world where monarchs ruled – was the modus operandi.

Fig.4.  King Alexander of Serbia and Queen Draga

A royal assassination was the aim of the ‘Unification of Death’ from the outset, indeed with such a name results through violence were clearly how they expected to achieve their aims.

For example, one of the group’s founding members, Dragutin Dimitrijevic, known as ‘Apis’ – possibly funded from Russia, broke into the Serbian Royal Palace on 11th June 1903 with some junior officers, found the autocratic 26 year old King of Serbia, Alexander and his wife Queen Draga and took part in their murder – if there is any substance to the suggestion that the bodies were mutilated and disemboweled then ‘Apis’ already had more than just royal blood on his hands when a little over ten years later he plotted the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Duchess Sofia. At the time of the murders of Alexander and Draga the Serbian parliament hailed Apis as their saviour and appointed him Professor of Tactics at the Military Academy.

There followed in 1980 a  failed attempt by the same group to assassinate the Montenegrin King  and in 1909 to overthrow the Montenegrin government.

Around this time, ‘The Black Hand’ formed as the group within the ‘Unification of Death’ that would continue to seek an end to Austro-Hungarian rule of Serb people through violent means as others began to think of a slower, negotiated solution. In 1911 Apis plotted the assassination of Emperor Franz Josef, when this failed he turned his attentions to his successor Archduke Francis Ferdinand, not least because he planned to make concessions to Slavs living in the south of the Austro–Hungarian Empire which may have appeased their desires for separation.

When at the start of 1914 Apis turned his attention to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand he began by recruiting three young Bosnian–Serbs as would–be assassins and had them trained.

Not all got behind this plot, knowing that these actions could invite war between Austria and Serbia at a time when Russian support wasn’t as yet a certainty. The Black Hand had supporters in the army and government. They used murder against opponents. Vocal or actual opposition was minimal. In any case, Apis was Chief of Serbian Military Intelligence. Several people in authority in the Serb government, not least the prime minister Nikola Pasic and in the army knew that would–be assassins were in Sarajevo for a full month awaiting the visit of the Archduke – no efforts were made to apprehend them or alert the Austrians of their presence.

Fig. 6. The Archduke and Duchess left three orphaned children, Sophie age 13, Max age 10 and Ernst age 7.

Shunned by their family, as their mother had been shunned by the court during the lifetime of Sophia, the children were  care for by a close friend of Franz Ferdinand. Their properties were confiscated at the end of WW1 and they moved to Austria. A staunch Austria nationalist and against the Nazi’s Max and Ernst were sent to the concentration camp Dachau. Sophie had three sons and a daughter – one son died on the Eastern Front towards the end of the Second World War, while a second died in a Soviet POW camp in 1949.

In 2000 a granddaughter of the Archduke filed to have their ancestral home returned.

 

World War: its origins and opportunities

In Part Six of ‘World War’ the editor Sir John Hammerton (1938) makes some interesting points, written in 1938 with the Great War only twenty years before. I’ve heard others, regular Tommies from the trenches referring to 1870–71 and before to the beginning of the rivalry between France and Germany, back to the Napoleonic Wars and the Thirty Years War.

In the editorial Hammerton uses the language of war and expresses the misconceived hope, even in 1938′ that the last war will be the last, that victory is worth it or that “we produce an environment ‘safe for democracy’ or ‘homes for heroes’. Are we not still guilty of exploiting words like ‘heroes’? That it is heroic to put you life on the line? Which in turn must feed into the psyche of the next generation of fighters?

The victor writes the history, yet Hammerton tries to present the facts objectively. I wonder how the words of Hiddenberg come over in ‘My War Memories’? Does he glory in Tanneberg and blame others for the rest?

There’s a picture of a church taken as a strong point surrounded by barbed wire that makes me realise that in this war forts crumbled, literally and as a useful point if strength. The rise of barbed–wire, machine–guns and artillery is seen as the start of a short era of static war, yet this is surely akin to an older action, the seige. The war id movement, of cavalry, was transferring to the skies.

I find it remarkable that Germany made many foolish assumptions about the state of the relations between countries of the British Empire, even beleiving that should Canada enter the war it would exposen itself to conflict with the USA. WW6C12p151 Do all warmongers delude themselves about the outcome? Do they ever win? What are the lasting conquests and why did they succeed? For example the Norman conquest of England?

Hammerton makes an intersting pooint about ‘German Teutonic kultur’ compares to the ‘peaceful union of states under Great Britain, whose national existence was more likely to stay intact within the empire rather than separated from it’. A case of better the devil you know than the devil you don’t, or subjected people knowing that the time to rebel is not when hundreds if thousands of young men have been mobilised and armed?

German racism ‘The Germans complained during the war that they were faced with a motley crowd of coloured troops.’ Hammerton ed. (1938:151) As if war is a game where sides can only be selected from amongst specific ‘racially superior’ groups or classes?

We owe it to those who have gone before to preserve the great fabric of British freedom and hand it on to our children.” Sir Joseph Cook, the Australian Prime Minister.

Samalis want to fight for, not against the English.

I admire the construction of this metaphor as well as the sentiment expressed. Metaphors must have a ressonace with the audience. Was this first expressed to the people of Somaliland? Politically were those selected from the Somali people to govern likely to lose most, or everything, if they chose to rebel? In any case, given the times, to rebel would be to pick sides and I don’t suppose German colonialism had much of a reputation.

“As the monsoon winds drives the sandhills of our coast into new forms, so does the news of the German evil doing drive our hearts and spears into the service of the English Government.” The hakim of Jubaland, Governor of the Somaliland Protectorate.

A case of my master’s enemy is my enemy, better the devil you know than the devil you don’t or a human inclination to take sides in a fight and join in. (JV)

Or was their fear of internment and viscious retributions?

War on the grand scale: 1914-1918 (And how to publish a weekly part-work successfully in 1936)

In the Editorial from Sir John Hammerton written in 1936 we learn that during the Great War there were 15 part works published each week to follow the war as it played out but only 4/5 stayed the course (two of them published by him).

The answer, if readers need persuading is to have

An Editorial plan:

1) Does it have a market?

  • Based on experience and instinct

2) Choice of letterpress

  • Choice and placing of illustrations
  • Taking pains, described as genius.
  • Well produced.

3) Keep promises.

4) It must be well advertised.

  • (The £15,000 Sir John Hammerton mentions spending  in 1934 might be £825,000+ ! in 2012)
  • The right balance between pictures and text or “harmonious proportions”.

‘War on the grand scale’

I am reminded that just as we look back 100 years authors looked back to conflicts of the previous century.

In the 50 years between 1864 and 1914 there had been far more changes in the mechanism of naval warfare than in the 4,000 years that elapsed between the time when the first Greek galleys hugged the rugged shores of their homeland and the encounters of St.Vincent, Trafalgar and Navarino. (1936:95)

Triple entente vs Triple Alliance

Stories that intrigue me include the 500 Turks waiting to board the battleship Reshadieh at the Armstrong yard on the Tyne at the outbreak of war. What happened to them and the ship?

What’s the history of Heligoland the tiny islands in the North Sea. Weren’t they British for a period?

Did Germany really feel threatened? Was it a trade war with England?

What if 2014 rather than being the centenary of the start of the First World War instead marked 100 years of continual fighting?

However horrible and however pointless war appears to be, the very fact that some conflict is always in the news makes one wonder if it isn’t in our nature to be forever at eachother’s throats; perhaps a warmongering gene will be found to define us, just as we have a gene that makes us think in metaphors and so devise new ways of doing things (such as killing each other or defending ourselves in increasingly devious or clever ways).

Would we humans have come so far without conflict? Have not environmental and human challanges caused us to seek ways toimprove our lot? To make us inventive?

Here’s a thought for a story, what if instead of the centenary of the First War in 2014 it was instead the 100th year of a conflict that is yet to end, the entire world bleeding itself dry and perfecting the means to slaughter, defend and produce ranks of fresh combatants in perfect self-destructive balance? The lack of ‘available’ men leading to widespread polygamy, two sides splitting the world’s resources in half, a balanced fight that can never have a winner but choices conflict over peace?

What if the ability and speed of amputating and replacing limbs allowed the ‘modern’soldier to be recycled constantly from spare parts? They would be put back together in a field station and sent out again ’til it got to the stage where you didn’t know who or what you were.

Or the story of a young soldier, wounded and slipping into a deep, water-filled shellhole who apparently goes on to live a fulfilling life but with the nagging feeling that he will drown at any moment only to discover that he’s had no life at all and was still in that shell-hole not celebrating his 25th wedding anniversary amongst family and friends.

Does anyone recall an antewar film that features what the ‘authorities’ think is a brain dead ‘creature’ without limbs or face who to their horror they discover decades after the war, having kept ‘it’ alive is actually conscious? There response is not to put it out of its suffering, but to wheel ‘him’ into a darke, hidden away room.

The never ending war, rather than the war to end all wars: death as a way of life

 

However horrible and however pointless war appears to be, the very fact that some conflict is always in the news makes one wonder if it isn’t in our nature to be forever at eachother’s throats; perhaps a warmongering gene will be found to define us, just as we have a gene that makes us think in metaphors and so devise new ways of doing things (such as killing each other or defending ourselves from death). 


Here’s a thought for a story, what if instead of the centenary of the First War in 2014 it was instead the 100th year of a conflict that is yet to end, the entire world bleeding itself dry and perfecting the means to slaughter, defend and produce ranks of fresh combatants in perfect self-destructive balance?

Henry Gartendfeld & Dick Piper R.I.P OCT 1917

20130802-180641.jpg

Fig.1. North of Poelcappelle approaching Houthulst Forest, 22nd October 1917.

(This action takes places around the pill boxes of Egypt House, a three compartment German concrete block house and Courage Post. It was becoming chilly – 13 C, and was overcast with a little rain).

When I arrived at the pill box (Courage Post) there were four of them.

‘Gartenfeld’s head was split right down the middle as if he’d been hit with an axe’.

They’d dragged him out round the side.

(Henry Godliph Gartenfeld died on Monday the 22nd October 1917)

Dick Piper was in the pill box.

‘Dick must have been standing with his head ducked down just outside the pill box’.

A piece of shrapnel had dented his helmet, scraped his face and gone into his guts.

Blair had dragged him into one corner of this pill box and put him on his trench coat. When I found him he had a sandbag tucked up under his legs so that his knees were up over his elbow.

“What’s wrong with him?” I asked and took a look.

His guts were hanging out all over the place.

“How are things?” I asked Dick.

“Pull my legs up, Jack.” He said, “Pull my legs up.”

So I packed another sandbag under his legs to stop his guts falling out.

You had a bandage and a tube of iodine fixed into the tunic. Never much use.

He died some time in the afternoon.

I left him a bit ‘til he stiffened up; that’s what you did. They were easier to move like that. I got his pay book and credentials, dragged him out of the pill box and covered him up with some bits of rubble – whatever I could find. That’s all you could do. Imagine – having to bury your friends like that.

Terrible.

Dick Piper was 45 years old. He shouldn’t have been there.

He was from the Lancashire Fusiliers. Another one who died on the 22nd October 1917. His body was never found. I knew the spot though. It broke my heart to stand there 90 years on, dwelling on the lives they had missed, their families and how they had died like that all those years ago.

Such a waste.


Fig.2.  August 1992. Mr John A Wilson MM ‘Jack’ – recalling events north of Ypres on the Passchendaele Salient. He marked the spot where Henry Gartenfeld and Dick Piper died. He was a corporal in charge of two guns, one in a pill box constructed against Egypt Farm, known as Egypt House, the second called ‘Courage Post’.

Further north there were the remnants of the Belgium army … there had been this attack to try and get this forest. It was doomed to failure from the start.

The only thing that lived out there were rats and they had a feast of it – October 1917

Mother! Mother!

On the way in I came across these guardsmen, eight or nine, lying in a shell-hole as though they were asleep.

(They were Gough’s XIV Corps. Guards. From the 38 Division commanded by General Lord of Cavan. They’d been held up on the west bank of the Steenbeck. Gas had been used by Jerry on as attacks had been made on Houthulst Forrest)

Get a dose of that and your lungs were ruined.

They were not like an ordinary shell.

MGC 1915

Gas came over like a dud.

You could see down this path from Courage Post right into the forest. It was facing the wood where Jerry was. There was no barbed wire, just all shell-holes and mud.

It had been raining heavily since the beginning of October.

The ground was like porridge. Parts of the front and turned into a lake. Simply getting to a front position was exhausting as you had to wade through this ooze and negotiate the rims of shell-holes.

(The rainfall in August 1917 over Northern France and Belgium was twice the August average. In fact, there were only three days that entire month when there was no rain).

Streams pushed their way through the crumbling banks of the craters and linked into impassable lakes of liquid mud. On the surface of the water there’d be an iridescent smear of oil. or it was green from gas on a puddle.

The Morass of the Battlefield - Flanders

If you saw a film of red streaking the surface it didn’t take much imagination to guess what else was down there.

And the smell. It made you wretch.

You’d vomit.

There was no getting used to the stink from all the mess, body parts, rotting away … a lads inside, heads, limbs, hands … you can’t imagine the horror of it.

Even if you buried them it didn’t take much to blow them out of the ground.

Jerries, Tommies, mules and horses. The only thing that lived out there were rats and they had a feast of it.

1914-1918 (11)

This was when I heard this kid in this dung heap by the stream shouting for his mother.

I don’t know if he’d been hit or fallen in but it stopped me in my tracks.

There was a bit of an embankment down to the stream. When it rained it was like a river, full of frogs and all this filth. On the other side there was this shell hole. All I could see was his head and shoulders sticking up above the mud.

Shell holes could be 30-50ft deep.

They quickly filled with water which formed a muddy sludge of body bits, broken equipment and what not. This was behind the pill-box they named Egypt House 200-300 yards short of Houthulst Forest.

I leant down to get this lad, mind you with all that mud I might have slipped in myself. The remnants of the Belgian army were nearby.

The line faced the Ypres Canal with Houthulst Forest on the other side

There’d been this attack to try to get around Houthulst forest which the French had taken on the 9th October. Doomed to failure from the start. That July the French had held a short piece of the line between Boesinghe and the Yser after which the remnants of the Belgians took over.

“Mother, mother.” He was saying.

So I grabbed this lad’s shoulder-belt and told him to help himself.

“Kick man, kick. You’ll have to get yourself out of this one.” I said.

He kicks about and I get him onto the duckboards.

“I can’t wait.” I tell him.

You couldn’t stand around out there with all the shooting going on.

And off I went.

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You’ve got a Blighty One – October 1917

We had another casualty, a Birmingham lad who was in charge of that gun.

The engineers would rig up a bit of a dug out on a dry spot and make a bit of shelter with corrugated sheeting.

They’d been trench mortared.

This Birmingham lad had been hit in the shoulder with a trench mortar fragment. They brought him to my gun as the duckboard led back from it. Other than that you were walking through the mud.

There were meant to be four in a team, but it never got up to scratch, it was more like two. We were organised in four sections: A,B,C,D. The joke was they had us training in teams of Five at Grantham; that was never going to happen, not the need and not the man power.

I said to this Birmingham lad, “You’ve got a Blighty.”

I kept him there ‘til late. Blair had him taken away.

I saw Blair a few days later. He told me this lad had died.

Blair was the Section Officer; Williams was the C.O.

(The edge of Houthulst Forest was reached by XIV Corps and the French in an attack on the 9th October 1917.

On the 12th October the XIV Corps entered the forest. Haig wanted to force the enemy to evacuate the Forest; an objective he continued to push for throughout October 1917).

As machine-gunners we were sent in to hold the position.

This is what I learnt after the war, the whys and wherefores; what I was doing in that stink.

I was in the spot at least four times.

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