Bad Luck

Private Lawrence

Wounded Canadian Child Soldier

 

A picture of a seventeen (17) year old Canadian soldier named Lawrence, from Brantford, Ontario, who had the bad luck of being wounded just 15 minutes before the armistice was declared. He is being tended to by several nurses in a hospital. Many teenagers served in the First World War 1, on both sides of the conflict. Seeing someone this young seriously wounded just 15 minutes before the declaration of peace drives home just how futile and wasteful this war really was.

Decorating a Christmas Tree in the Trenches

Here is an unusual picture of German soldiers in a trench in 1914 taking time out from killing and being killed to decorate a thread bare Charlie Brown Christmas tree with some tinsel and other xmas decorations.

World War 1 German Soldiers Decorating the Xmas TreeWhat I find interesting is the symbolism, probably lost on these soldiers, of what they are doing. There is something very ironic about the scene of these warriors taking time to celebrate the King of Peace in a war zone. In fact, peace and goodwill to one’s fellow man are in short supply here. Even while some of the soldiers decorate the tree, the others have to stand guard, scanning the approaches to the trenches, ready to kill any French or British soldiers they might see.

 

close up of the Christmas treeZooming in on the Christmas tree, we can see that it is a sorry looking thing adorned with just a few strands of tinsel. The men are no doubt trying to find a little respite from the horrors of war by decorating the tree, as a reminder of the comforts of home and Christmases before the War. But I find that there is also an intended connection between this Christmas tree, really a dead tree, and the blasted landscape around the trenches. Dead trees and vineyards can be seen in the background and in front of the trenches. Just as these men have cut down the Christmas tree, they have felled the natural life of the land, rendering it bleak and ruined. In the course of the war, millions of acres of farmland in France and Belgium would be destroyed and scarred by trenches and shell craters.A

Xmas celebrationsAbove is a closeup of the men at the bottom of the trench as they take out their precious Christmas decorations from a box.

 

German Soldiers Guarding a TrenchEven at Christmas time death and danger are ever present companions. While some of their comrades decorate the tree, the rest of the soldiers in the trench must stand guard, their rifles ready to shoot at any enemy soldier that they spot. The physical signs and decorations of Christmas were to be found in this trench but the true spirit of Christmas had been overshadowed by the din of artillery. I wonder how many of these men lived to celebrate any more Christmases.

 

War Fever and the Preparedeness Movement

Preparedness Parade

Marchers in a Preparedness Parade, 1916

America was initially neutral at the outset of World War 1. Even while the war raged in Europe, President Wilson actually tried to reduce the military budget as he had no intention of being dragged into the conflict.

However popular war mongers such as former President Theodore Roosevelt and various industrial and military elites argued that the United States should join the war and that it needed to be better prepared militarily. They advocated vastly increased military spending as well as a program of conscription and training of an officer corps.

In order to whip up public support for war, Roosevelt and his war loving associates organized the Preparedness Movement, which among other things held parades through out the country to raise public awareness and support. After all, every one loves a parade, and sending your sons and fathers to die on a foreign battlefield is so much easier to swallow when it is dressed up with flags and jolly marching music.

Unfortunate events such as the German sinking of the passenger liner Lusitania increased the public’s demand for war, and the Preparedeness Movement grew. President Wilson was eventually forced to agree to some of their demands and gear the country up for war, which eventually came for the United States, in 1917.

Preparedness Parade - Closeup of Marchers

Closeup of the Marchers at the Head of the Parade

 

A Devastated France and Her American Friends

Helping France

Wartime poster depicts a French widow and her child, and a wounded French soldier being helped by a woman in white, a personification of the American volunteers. In the background is a large American flag and beyond that scenes of war damage and devastation. family without a husband. On the right, is a peasant ploughing in the field. Approximately eight million acres of French land were devastated by the war.

These days it has become fashionable in the United States, especially among conservative media, to mock France as a nation of surrendering cowards who lack any sense of bravery or military toughness. This unfounded image is rooted somewhat in the French defeat during World War 2, but its roots are primarily in the fact that France wisely refused to join in the invasion of Iraq, and this angered During the height of the anti-French hysteria and backlash many conservative media personalities urged renaming French fries, “Freedom Fries” presumably because the disloyal French were not worthy of having their name associated with an American junk food stable.

But it was not always like this. There was a time, especially during the First World War, that Americans loved France and French culture. American politicians and the public acknowledged the debt they owed the French for helping them throw off British rule during the American Revolution. And so when France needed help, they volunteered, donated and fought to save France.

The poster above is for a charitable organization called the American Committe for the Devastated French Regions. This committee was formed by the youngest daughter of the American financier Jp Morgan, Anne Morgan (1873–1952) and her friend Anne Murray Dike (1879–1929), a medical doctor.

The organization worked hard to repair the severe damage done to France, which bore most of the fighting on its territory during the entire war. Armies of American volunteers were organized into a semi military organization. They lived in barracks, wore uniforms, and worked long hours. Volunteers had to pay their own expenses, typically about $1,500 a year ( a considerable sum back then).

Despite the rigors and hardships of serving in the Committee, thousands of Americans volunteered, including as many as 6,000 female doctors, who wanted to serve the war effort but who were not allowed to join the American armed forces.