August 17, 1917  Black Swallow of Death

French President Charles de Gaulle came to New York City in 1960, surprising media and dignitaries alike when all he wanted to do was to visit with a black elevator operator at the Rockefeller Center.

Eugene James Bullard was born October 9, 1894 in Columbus Georgia, the seventh of 10 children born to William Octave Bullard and an indigenous Creek named Josephine “Yokalee” Thomas.  Bullard’s father had come from Martinique, where his people could trace their lineage back to the Haitian Revolution.

Eugene wanted to leave behind the racial discrimination of his day.  The near-lynching of his father became the catalyst in 1902, when the boy was eight.  He ran away from home, spending the next four years doing odd jobs to survive  The elder Bullard had always told him “in France a man is accepted as a man regardless of the color of his skin”.   In 1906, the boy stowed away on a German ship to Aberdeen.

Bullard worked a number of odd jobs to support himself.  By age 16 he was becoming well known as a boxer, and moved to Paris at the first opportunity.

WWI broke out in August of 1914.  By the end of the year the French nation had suffered over a half million casualties.Ace-Website-Banner-1

Bullard enlisted in the French Foreign Legion, an American serving as one of 54 different nationalities serving in the Moroccan Division, Third Marching Regiment.

The Regiment was sent to the Somme front in 1915, where 300,000 Frenchmen were lost by the end of November. One unit of 500 men began the disastrous Champagne offensive of September.    At the end of the battle, 31 responded to the first evening’s roll call.

What remained of Bullard’s unit was disbanded to form the 170th Infantry, and sent to Verdun.  He thought he had arrived in hell, saying, “I thought I had seen fighting in other battles but no one has ever seen anything like Verdun – not ever before or ever since.”

Erich von Falkenhayn had designed his battle plan for Verdun to “bleed France white”, calling Verdun Operation Gericht.  Operation Execution Place.  Over 250,000 died in the 10 months long battle, more than 100,000 were missing and 300,000 gassed or wounded.

Bullard had been wounded four times before.  On March 5th 1916, he received the wounds that took him out of the ground war.  He was 8 months in hospital when the opportunity arose to join the French Flying Corps.  A white American buddy bet him $2,000 that he couldn’t get into aviation and become a pilot, and he took the challenge.  Bullard earned his wings on May 5, 1917, and received his $2,000 soon thereafter.

Bullard and JimmyBullard was assigned to the 93d Spad Squadron on August 17, 1917, flying Spad V11s and Nieuports with a mascot, a pet Rhesus Monkey he called “Jimmy”.  He said, “I was treated with respect and friendship – even by those from America.  Then I knew at last that there are good and bad white men just as there are good and bad black men.”

The first black combat pilot and the only one to serve in the Great War, Bullard painted a bleeding red heart pierced by a knife on the side of his Spad biplane. Below the heart were the words “Tout le Sang qui coule est rouge!” The phrase roughly translates as “All Blood Runs Red”.

Bullard is credited with two kills while flying for the 93rd, though one of the Germans crashed behind enemy lines so it remained unconfirmed.  He tried to join the American squadron when the US entered the war, but the whites only policy of the time prevented him from doing so.

Bullard married in 1923.  The marriage ended in divorce, with Bullard gaining custody of their two surviving daughters (a son had died of pneumonia in infancy).   He became a drummer at the jazz club, “Le Grand Duc”, later buying his own club and calling it “L’Escadrille”.  Bullard made several famous friends during this time, including Josephine Baker, Louis Armstrong, Langston Hughes and the French flying ace Charles Nungesser.

He volunteered with the 51st Infantry when WWII broke out, becoming wounded and escaping to the United States in 1940.Bullard, medals

Bullard spent his last days in obscurity. His daughters had married by the 1950s, and he lived alone in a New York apartment, decorated with pictures of his famous friends and a framed case containing his fifteen French war medals.  He worked as an elevator operator at the Rockefeller Center, where nobody knew anything about his service.

The French government requested his presence in 1954, when he and two white Frenchmen were accorded the honor of relighting the Eternal Flame at the Tomb of the Unknown French Soldier at l’Arc de Triomphe.

France honored Bullard once again in 1959, naming him a Knight of the Légion d’honneur in a lavish ceremony in New York City. Dave Garraway interviewed him on the Today Show, but he remained alone and unknown in his native country.quote-tout-le-sang-qui-coule-rouge-all-blood-is-red-eugene-bullard-71-83-05

French President Charles de Gaulle came to New York City in 1960, surprising media and dignitaries alike when all he wanted to do was to visit the black elevator operator who worked at the Rockefeller Center.

Eugene James “Jacques” Bullard died on October 12, 1961.  He was buried with the tri-color of France draping his coffin, laid to rest with full honors by the Federation of French War Officers at Flushing Cemetery in New York.

The first black fighter pilot, the “Black Swallow of Death”, was honored by the country he had loved and served during two world wars.  On August 23, 1994, 77 years after Bullard’s American flight physical, the USAF posthumously awarded Eugene Bullard a commission as a Lieutenant.

 

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August 10, 1920, Ottoman Empire

Throughout the period, the “secret sauce” of Ottoman power was an army of elite infantry called “Janissaries”.  Janissaries were Christian slaves, usually taken as spoils of war, or sold into slavery as children. They came from all over the Ottoman Empire, though the sons of Greek, Bosnian, Serbian and Bulgarian Christians were preferred. Turkic and Jewish boys were never forced to comply with the Janissary system.

The Anatolian Peninsula is the westernmost point of Asia, forming the northern coastline of the eastern Mediterranean.  Today we call it Turkey.  In the 13th century it was home to a collection of small emirates and Ghazi (Warrior for Islam) principalities, called ‘Beyliks’.

The Turkish tribes united under Osman Bey in 1299 grew to become one of the most powerful forces in history.  A 600-year empire called the Ottomans.

The Ottoman victory at Kosovo in 1389 marked the end of Serbian power in the Balkans.  Christian Europe launched a Crusade six years later, in an effort to relieve the Byzantine capitol of Constantinople, by then virtually all that remained of the eastern Roman Empire.  This, the last of the major Crusades, was crushed at Nicopolis, in modern day Bulgaria.  After the battle, a handful of nobles were held for ransom, those judged to be younger than 20 were sold into slavery.  The rest, as many as 3,000 knights, were bound together in groups of three, and systematically beheaded.  Never again would Greater Europe be altogether free of Islamic influence.

Ottoman Cannon
Siege Cannon of Sultan Mehmet II

By the 15th century, Ottoman controlled lands surrounded the Byzantine capitol of Constantinople.  The forces of 21-year-old Sultan Mehmed II laid siege to the city in 1453, its ultimate defeat and sack punctuating the end of the Eastern Roman Empire and the birth of the “New City” – Istanbul.

Throughout this period, the “secret sauce” of Ottoman power was an army of elite infantry called “Janissaries”.  Janissaries were Christian slaves, usually taken as spoils of war, or sold into slavery as children. They came from all over the Ottoman Empire, though the sons of Greek, Bosnian, Serbian and Bulgarian Christians were preferred. Turkic and Jewish boys were never forced into compliance with the Janissary system.

Janissary_Recruitment_in_the_Balkans-Suleymanname
Janissary recruitment in the Balkans

Janissaries weren’t free, nor were they common slaves. They were subject to severe discipline, but paid salaries and retirement pensions, forming a distinct social class in Ottoman society. As boys, usually 10 to 12, they were taken from their parents and given to Turkish families to learn the language and customs. They were then enrolled in Janissary training, indoctrinated into Islam, and kept under 24-hour supervision.

Janissaries were prohibited from growing beards and taking up a skill other than war, and were forbidden to marry.

They were an elite slave army, in many ways resembling a modern army.  Janissaries were the first to wear unique uniforms, first to be paid regular salaries for their service, the first to march in cadence, to music. They lived in barracks and made extensive use of firearms, campaigning with their own medical teams of Muslim and Jewish surgeons operating mobile hospitals behind the lines.

suleiman-i-2-sizedThe Ottoman Empire reached the height of its power during the 16th and 17th centuries, under the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent. One of the most powerful states in the world and ruling over 39 million subjects, the Ottoman Empire controlled a territory spanning three continents:  over two million square miles.

Serbia went to war with the Sultan for its independence in 1804, followed closely by Greece. Sultan Selim III attempted to modernize the army, but his reforms were opposed by the religious leadership and by the Janissary corps. Selim’s reforms would cost him his throne and ultimately his life, but internal order was restored in 1826, when Mahmud II put the Janissary Corps down in a bloody “reform”.

The Ottoman Empire then entered a period of decline, from which it would never emerge. Still one of the five continental Great Powers by the turn of the 20th century, the Ottoman Empire was “the Sick Man of Europe”, with its many minority populations pushing for independence.

Loyalty-obsessed to the point of paranoia, Sultan Abdul Hamid II told a reporter in 1890 that he would give his Armenian Christian minority a “box on the ear”.  Hundreds of thousands of Armenians were murdered in the pogroms of 1894-96.

The Armenian genocide began in earnest with the arrest of Armenian intellectuals, a decapitation strike intended to deprive Armenians within the Ottoman Empire of any semblance of leadership and begun on “Red Sunday”, April 24.  Detainees began to be deported within the Ottoman Empire by the end of May, their number reaching 2,345.  Most, were eventually murdered.

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Able bodied males were exterminated outright, or worked to death as conscripted labor.   Women, children, the elderly, and infirm were driven on death marches to the farthest reaches of the Syrian desert.  Goaded like livestock by military “escorts”, they were deprived of food and water, subjected at all times to robbery, rape, and outright murder. By the early 20s, as many as 1.5 million of the Ottoman Empire’s 2 million Armenian Christians, were dead.

The Armenian spyurk, an Aramaic cognate deriving from the Hebrew Galut, or “Diaspora”,  goes back some 1,700 years.  Today, the number of ethnic Armenians around the world tracing lineage back to this modern-day diaspora, numbers in the several millions.

Since 1919, Armenians around the world have marked April 24 as Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day.

To this day, it remains illegal in Turkey, to speak of the Armenian genocide.  The New York Times wouldn’t use the term, until 2004.

This April, President Donald Trump received a furious response from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, for this seemingly-benign statement: “Beginning in 1915, one and a half million Armenians were deported, massacred, or marched to their deaths in the final years of the Ottoman Empire.  I join the Armenian community in America and around the world in mourning the loss of innocent lives and the suffering endured by so many”.

The Ottoman Empire aligned itself with the losing side during WWI, its ultimate disintegration beginning on August 10, 1920, when representatives of Sultan Mehmed VI signed the Treaty of Sèvres.  Future conflicts and treaties would shape and refine the borders, but the “Middle East” as we know it, was borne of the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire.

Ottoman Empire c1900

Mustafa Kemal and his “Young Turks” demanded complete independence, the Treaty of Lausanne creating the Republic of Turkey on October 29, 1923.  Kemal became the country’s first president, granted the honorific “Atatürk” (“Father of the Turks”), in 1934.  Multi-party democracy was established in 1946.  Ever since, the Turkish military and judiciary have viewed themselves as defenders of the Kemalist ideals of a secular Turkish state.

Today, the former seat of the Ottoman Empire is 95% Muslim.  The philosophical descendants of Atatürk vie with those of Erdoğan, the modern, constitutionally secular state, versus the fundamentalist theocracy.

Last year, elements of the Turkish military staged the 6th coup since 1960, in opposition to the increasingly Islamist policies of President Erdoğan, a man who once likened democracy to a bus:  It gets you to your destination…then you get off.  One man, one vote, one time.  The coup was put down with a death toll of 265. 3,000 soldiers were arrested, and some 2,700 judges, fired.

As a NATO member, Turkey is privy to some of the US’ most closely held military secrets. Some 50 thermonuclear weapons are housed at Incirlik Air Base, 68 miles from the Syrian border, currently the hottest combat zone, on the planet.  The strategic thinking behind such basing decisions are difficult to understand, at best.  No aircraft currently based in Turkey, is capable of carrying even one of these weapons.

One might wish the history unfolding before our eyes, was more of a political issue, here in the States.

July 31, 1920 Corporal Jackie

Albert took a bullet in the shoulder at the Battle of Agagia on February 26, 1916, while the monkey, beside himself with agitation, licked the wound and did everything he could to comfort the stricken man.  It was this incident more than any other that marked Jackie’s transformation from pet and mascot, to a comrade to the men of the regiment.

In 1915, Albert Marr lived with his family and his Chacma baboon, Jackie, on Cheshire Farm, on the outskirts of Pretoria, South Africa.  The Great War had begun a year earlier, when Marr was sworn into the 3rd (Transvaal) Regiment of the 1st South African Infantry Brigade, in August of that year.  He was now Private Albert Marr, #4927.

Albert Marr, JackiePrivate Marr asked for and received permission to bring Jackie along with him.  It wasn’t long before the monkey became the official Regimental Mascot.

Jackie drew rations like any other soldier, eating at the mess table, using his knife and fork and washing it all down with his own drinking basin.

He drilled and marched with his company in a special uniform and cap, complete with buttons, regimental badges, and a hole for his tail.

Jackie entertained the men during quiet periods, lighting their pipes and cigarettes and saluting officers as they passed on their rounds.  He learned to stand at ease when ordered, placing his feet apart and hands behind his back, regimental style.

These two inseparable buddies, Albert Marr and Jackie, first saw combat during the Senussi Campaign in North Africa. Albert took a bullet in the shoulder at the Battle of Agagia on February 26, 1916, while the monkey, beside himself with agitation, licked the wound and did everything he could to comfort the stricken man.  It was this incident more than any other that marked Jackie’s transformation from pet and mascot, to a comrade to the men of the regiment.jackie

Jackie would accompany Albert at night when he was on guard duty.  Marr soon learned to trust Jackie’s keen eyesight and acute hearing.  The monkey was almost always first to know about enemy movements or impending attack.  He would give early warning with a series of sharp barks, or by pulling on Marr’s tunic.

The pair went through the nightmare of Delville Wood together, early in the Somme campaign, when the First South African Infantry held their position despite 80% casualties.  The pair experienced the nightmare of mud that was Passchendaele, and the desperate fighting at Kemmel Hill.  The two were at Belleau Wood, a primarily American operation, where Marine Captain Lloyd Williams of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, was informed that he was surrounded by Germans.  “Retreat?” Williams retorted, “hell, we just got here.”Jackie

Throughout all of it, Albert Marr and Jackie had come through WWI mostly unscathed.  That all changed in April, 1918.

The South African Brigade was being heavily shelled as it withdrew through the West Flanders region of Belgium. Jackie was frantically trying to build a wall of stones around himself, a shelter from flying shrapnel, while shells were bursting all around. A jagged piece of shrapnel wounded Jackie in the arm and another all but amputated the animal’s leg.  He refused to be carried off by the stretcher-bearers, trying instead to finish his wall, hobbling around on what had once been his leg.

Lt. Colonel R. N. Woodsend of the Royal Medical Corps described the scene:  “It was a pathetic sight; the little fellow, carried by his keeper, lay moaning in pain, the man crying his eyes out in sympathy, ‘You must do something for him, he saved my life in Egypt. He nursed me through dysentery’. The baboon was badly wounded, the left leg hanging with shreds of muscle, another jagged wound in the right arm.  We decided to give the patient chloroform and dress his wounds…It was a simple matter to amputate the leg with scissors and I cleaned the wounds and dressed them as well as I could.  He came around as quickly as he went under. The problem then was what to do with him. This was soon settled by his keeper: ‘He is on army strength’. So, duly labelled, number, name, ATS injection, nature of injuries, etc. he was taken to the road and sent by a passing ambulance to the Casualty Clearing Station”.Jackie Portrait

As the war drew to a close, Jackie was promoted to the rank of Corporal, and given a medal for bravery. Possibly the only monkey in history, ever to be so honored.

On his arm he wore a gold wound stripe, and three blue service chevrons, one for each of his three years’ front line service.

After the pair arrived home, Jackie became the center of attention at a parade officially welcoming the 1st South African Regiment home.

On July 31, 1920, Jackie received the Pretoria Citizen’s Service Medal, at the Peace Parade in Church Square, Pretoria.

Jackie died as the result of a fire, which destroyed the Marr family farmhouse in May 1921.  Albert Marr passed away in 1973, at the age of 84.  Marr had missed his battle buddy Jackie, for all the days in-between.

July 20, 1914 The Coming Crisis

There would be no “Phoney War”, no “Sitzkreig”, as some wags were wont to call the early days of WWII. This would be a cataclysm that would change a century.  Few realized it on this date, 103 years ago today. The collision was only days away.

On the eve of 1870, the German nation existed only as an agglomeration of 22 independent German states. On the eve of WWI, Germany was one of the five Great Powers of Europe.

Alarmed by the aggressive growth of its historic adversary, France had by that time increased its period of compulsory military service from two years to three, in an effort to offset the advantage which a population of 70 million conferred on Germany, compared with a French population of 40 million.

Joseph Caillaux was a left-wing politician, once Prime Minister of France and, by 1913, a cabinet minister under the more conservative administration of French President Raymond Poincare.

Never too discreet with his personal conduct, Caillaux paraded through his public life with a succession of mistresses. One of them was Henriette Raynouard.  By 1911, both were divorced and Madame Raynouard had become Henriette Caillaux.

A relative pacifist, many on the French right considered Caillaux to be too “soft” on Germany. One of them was Gaston Calmette, editor of the leading right-wing newspaper Le Figaro, who regularly excoriated the politician.

affairecaillaux_thumbOn March 16, 1914, the now-second Mrs Caillaux took a taxi to the offices of Le Figaro. She waited for a full hour to see the newspaper’s editor, before walking into his office and shooting him at his desk. Four out of six rounds hit their mark. Gaston Calmette would be dead before the night was through.

It was the crime of the century.  The OJ trial version 1.0.  The French public was captivated as the trial began, 102 years ago, today.

The British public was similarly distracted, by the latest in a series of Irish Home Rule crises.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire, a sprawling amalgamation of 17 nations, 20 Parliamentary groups and 27 political parties, desperately needed to bring the Balkan peninsula into line after the June 28 assassination of the heir-apparent to the dual monarchy.

That individual Serbians were complicit in the assassination is beyond doubt, but so many government records of the era have disappeared that it’s impossible to determine official Serbian complicity. Nevertheless, Serbia had to be brought into line.

Having given Austria his assurance of support in the event of war with Serbia, even if Russia entered in support of its Slavic ally, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany left on a summer cruise in the Norwegian fjords. The Kaiser’s being out of touch for those critical days in July, has been called the most expensive maritime disaster, in naval history.

Yacht_Hohenzollern_1906

The Austro-Hungarian Empire delivered a deliberately unacceptable ultimatum to Serbia on the 23rd, a bald pretext for the war it declared on the 28th. The same day, Madame Caillaux was acquitted on the grounds that hers was a “crime passionnel”.  A crime of passion.

In the days that followed, entangling alliances and mutual distrust reigned over the European continent. As expected, Russia mobilized in support of Serbia, as Germany began implementation of its long-standing strategy of a lightning defeat of France, before wheeling to face the much larger “Russian steamroller”.

Pre-planned timetables took over.  France alone would have 3,781,000 military men under orders before the middle of August, arriving at the western front on 7,000 trains, arriving as often as one every eight minutes.

There would be no “Phoney War”, no “Sitzkreig”, as some wags were wont to call the early days of WWII. The coming storm would resemble the near-simultaneous detonation of a continent.  A cataclysm which would destroy everything in its path and irrevocably alter the following century.  Few realized it, as this warm summer day came and went, 103 years ago today.   The four horsemen of the apocalypse, cometh.  The collision was only days away.

July 19, 1916 Iron Harvest

Ernest Shackleton asked how the war had ended.  The response left him without words.  “The war isn’t over.  Millions are dead.  Europe is mad.  The world is mad”.

In an alternate history, the June 1914 assassination of the heir-apparent to the Habsburg Empire could have led to nothing more than a regional squabble.  Little more than a policing action in the Balkans.  As it was, mutual distrust and entangling alliances drew the Great Powers of Europe into the vortex.  On August 3, the “War to End Wars” broke out across the European continent.

The early 20th century has been called the “Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration”, and for good reason.   As the diplomatic wranglings, the mobilizations and counter-mobilizations of the “period preparatory to war” unfolded, Sir Ernest Shackleton made the final arrangements for his third expedition into the Antarctic.   Despite the outbreak of war, first Lord of the Admiralty  Sir Winston Churchill ordered Shackleton to Proceed.  The “Endurance” expedition” departed British waters on August 8.

The German invasion of France ground to a halt that September.  The first entrenchments were being dug as Shackleton remained in England, departing on September 27 to meet up with the Endurance expedition in Buenos Aires.

As the unofficial Christmas Truce descended over the trenches of Europe, Shackleton’s expedition slowly picked their way through the ice floes of the Weddell Sea.

shackleton_stamps

The disaster of WWI became “Total War” with the zeppelin raids of January, as Endurance met with disaster of its own.  The ship was frozen fast, with no hope of escape.  As the nine-month battle unfolded across the Gallipoli Peninsula, Shackleton’s men abandoned ship’s routine and converted to winter station.  Finally, camps were set up across the drifting ice.  On November 21, the wreck of the Endurance slipped below the surface.

In December, Allies began preparations for a summer offensive along the upper reaches of the river Somme.  In February, Erich von Falkenhayn began the Verdun offensive that would “bleed France white”, as the Shackleton party camped on an ice pack, adrift in open ocean.  The ice was breaking up in April, forcing Shackleton and his party into three small lifeboats.  Five brutal days would come and go in open boats, the last of 457 days before reaching land at the desolate shores of Elephant Island.

The whaling stations at South Georgia Island, some 720 miles distant, were their only hope for survival. Shackleton and a party of five set out on April 24 in a 20′ lifeboat.  They shouldn’t have made it, but somehow did.  In hurricane-force winds, the cliffs of South Georgia Island came into view four weeks later.

They must have been a sight, with thick ice encrusted on long, filthy beards, saltwater-soaked sealskin clothing rotting from their bodies.  The first people they came across were children, who ran in fright at the sight of them.  At last, on May 20, 1916, the Shackleton expedition was saved.

Ernest Shackleton asked how the war had ended.  The response left him without words.  “The war isn’t over.  Millions are dead.  Europe is mad.  The world is mad”.

Preparatory bombardment for the Somme offensive began in June, 1,500 guns firing 1.7 million shells into a twelve-mile front.  27 shells for every foot of the front.  Allies went “over the top” on July 1, the single worst day in British military history.  19,240 British soldiers were killed in that single day, along with 1,590 French.  German losses numbered 10,000–12,000.  By July 19 the Somme offensive was just getting started.  The battle would last another 122 days.

The toll exacted by the 1st World War was cataclysmic, in human, economic and environmental terms.  After the war, hundreds of square miles along the north of France were identified as “Completely devastated. Damage to properties: 100%. Damage to Agriculture: 100%. Impossible to clean. Human life impossible”.

Vast quantities of human and animal remains permeate this “Zone Rouge”, an area saturated with unexploded shells and munitions of all sizes and types:  gas, high explosive, anti-personnel.  There are hand grenades and bombs, small arms and rusted ammunition, by the truckload.

Lochnagar Crater
Lochnagar bomb crater in the Somme Photo Credit Telegraph Newspaper: HENRY SAMUEL

Lead, mercury, chlorine, arsenic and other toxins permeate the soil.  In two areas near Ypres and Woëvre, arsenic constitutes up to 17% of some soil samples.  To this day, 99% of all plants still die in these places.

Eighty-seven years after the cessation of hostilities, one “Red Zone” survey uncovered up to 150 shells per 5,000 square meters in the top six inches of soil, alone.  An area smaller than an American football field.

The rotor blades from farmers’ tractors often set them off.  76-year-old Claude Samain farms land near Serre, land that was once part of the British front line.  As a farm kid in the 1930s, Samain still remembers turning up bodies in his fields.  To this day, he is still finding unexploded ordnance. ‘We find shells every time we turn the earth over for potatoes or sugar beet.’

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By derivative work: Tinodela (talk)Zone_rougeRed_Zone_Map.jpg: Lamiot – Zone_rougeRed_Zone_Map.jpg, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4798391

In June 2016, head of the bomb disposal unit at Amiens Michel Colling, said: “Since the start of the year we’ve been called out 300 times to dispose of 25 tons of bombs.  As soon as you start turning the earth up”, Colling said, “you find them. At this rate, we have another 500 years to clear the area, so the work is far from over.”

July 5, 1915  The Nutty Professor

For all his vaunted brilliance, Muenter seems to have been nuttier than a squirrel turd.  His intention as explained to police, was to take Morgan’s wife and children hostage, until the financier cut off loans to Europe.  He told police of his intention to assassinate J.P. Morgan, as well.  How these two objectives squared with one another, remains unexplained.

The train left Boston in April, 1906. On board were the infant, the toddler, the nanny, and the children’s father, a German language instructor from Harvard University.  The two little girls’ mother was onboard as well.  She, and her casket, were going home to Chicago, to be buried in her home town.  Leone (Krembs) Muenter had passed from some sort of stomach ailment, ten days after giving birth.

The story may have ended there, but for Dr. Herbert McIntyre.  The circumstances of death didn’t seem right, and Dr. McIntyre ordered an autopsy.  On April 27, Cambridge police issued a warrant for the arrest of Professor Erich Muenter, in the murder of his wife, by arsenic poisoning.

Apparently, this “man of science” wanted to test his theory that you could see the soul passing, at the moment of death.  Now, Erich Muenter vanished.Man of science

Nine years later, the United States’ entry into WW1 was still two years in the future.

US policy at this time allowed arms sales to any and all belligerents in the European war.  With British dominance of north Atlantic shipping routes, for all intents and purposes this meant France and Great Britain.

German language professor Frank Holt was teaching at Cornell University in 1915.  A naturalized citizen and committed German nationalist, Holt had ties with the secret German spy intelligence unit Abteilung IIIb, which was conducting a campaign of sabotage against US ships carrying munitions ‘over there’.

Frank Holt might have described himself as a ‘peace activist’, obsessed with the idea that arms themselves were extending the war.  If arms exports were brought to a halt, Holt believed, the war would come to an end.

On July 2, Holt gave up arguing the point, and took a train to Washington DC.  In his hands he carried a bomb, three sticks of dynamite attached to a timing mechanism, ingeniously designed to go off when the acid ate through its cork stopper.  In those days, you were apparently free to stroll about the United States Capitol, with a bomb in your hands. At least when Congress was in recess.

Finding the Senate chamber locked, Holt placed his package under a telephone switchboard in the Senate reception room, with the timer set to go off around midnight.

The explosion was enormous, tearing the room to pieces and blowing a night watchman out of his chair on the other side of the building.  Writing to the Washington Star newspaper under the pseudonym R. Pearce, Holt explained his intentions to “make enough noise to be heard above the voices that clamor for war. This explosion is an exclamation point in my appeal for peace.”

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Aftermath of the Senate bombing, July 2, 1915

The following day, a tiny little box on the front page of the New York Times, attributed the explosion to ‘gasses’.  As the paper was hitting news stands, Frank Holt was headed for Long Island, to the Glen Cove estate of “the Great Pierpont”, J. P. Morgan.  Armed with two revolvers, a suitcase full of dynamite and a few anti-war newspaper clippings, Holt bulled his way through the butler who opened the door, and into the Morgan residence.

JP Morgan
John Pierpont Morgan

Pandemonium broke out in the home, as Holt turned his weapons on the four Morgan children.  Mrs. Morgan tried to block the path to her husband, but the millionaire financier lunged, tackling the much smaller man to the ground.  Holt fired twice into Morgan’s thigh and groin, as the pair went down together.  Pierpont twisted the gun from his grasp as Mrs. Morgan and a gaggle of household servants struggled for the other.  All the while, the butler pounded the would-be assassin’s head with a lump of coal, as Holt shouted “Kill me! Kill me now! I don’t want to live any more. I have been in a perfect hell for the last six months on account of the European war!”

A copy of the R. Pearce letter quickly tied Holt to the Capitol bombing, as former colleagues identified the long-since vanished, accused killer of Leone Muenter.  Frank Holt and Erich Muenter were the same man.

A colleague once described Muenter as “a brilliant man, a tireless worker, and a profound student.  Night after night he would sit reading, studying and writing while his wife lay asleep in a room nearby.” The Harvard Crimson newspaper described him as ‘harmless on the surface…affect[ing] a scholarly stoop and a Van Dyke, and wore dingy, patched suits”.  Fluent in seven languages, he was the pale, bearded model of the junior faculty intellectual, complete with elbow patches.

For all his vaunted brilliance, Muenter seems to have been nuttier than a squirrel turd.  His intention as explained to police, was to take Morgan’s wife and children hostage, until the financier cut off loans to Europe.  He told police of his intention to assassinate J.P. Morgan, as well.  How these two objectives squared with one another, remains unexplained.

Erich MuenterThat Sunday morning, July 4, the J.P. Morgan shooting seems to have been front page on every newspaper in the world.  On July 5, Erich Muenter took the brass ferrule from a pencil eraser, and slit his wrist.  That suicide attempt was unsuccessful.  The following day, Muenter scaled the bars in his prison and jumped, leaving his brains on the concrete floor, twenty feet below.

The day after his death, Police tracked down a trunk Muenter had left in a New York city storage facility.  In it were 134 sticks of dynamite, blasting caps, fuse coils, batteries, nitric acid, windproof matches, mercury fulminate and smokeless explosive powder. Three tin can bombs had been recently completed, and were ready to go.  Inspector of Combustibles Owen Egan declared it to be “the greatest equipment for bomb making ever brought to New York”.

That same day, the 2nd Mrs. Muenter received a letter from her dead husband.  It said that an arms shipment headed for England would go to the bottom, that very day.    Warned by wireless, the crew of SS Minnehaha frantically searched for the bomb, without success.  Muenter’s bomb went off and touched off a fire, but it was far away from Minnehaha’s cargo of high explosives, and did little damage to the ship itself.

SS Minnehaha

The Harland & Wolff liner SS Minnehaha was torpedoed and sunk off the Irish coast with the loss of 43, on September 7, 1917.

June 30, 1917 Doughnut Lassies

A correspondent to the New York Times wrote in 1918 “When I landed in France I didn’t think so much of the Salvation Army; after two weeks with the Americans at the front I take my hat off… [W]hen the memoirs of this war come to be written the doughnuts and apple pies of the Salvation Army are going to take their place in history”.

The United States entered the ‘War to end all Wars’ in April, 1917. The first 14,000 Americans arrived ‘over there’ in June, the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) formed on July 5.  American troops fought the military forces of Imperial Germany alongside their British and French allies, others joining Italian forces in the struggle against the Austro-Hungarian Empire.WW1

For a variety of reasons, WW1 was a war of movement in the East.  Not so on the Western front.  As early as October 1914, combatants were forced to burrow into the ground like animals, sheltering from what Ernst Jünger called the ‘Storm of Steel’.

Conditions in the trenches and dugouts defy description. You must have smelled the trenches long before you could see them.  The collective funk of a million men and more, out in the open.  Little but verminous scars in the earth teaming with rats and lice and swarming with flies, time and again the shells churned up and pulverized the soil, the water and the shattered remnants of once-great forests, along with the bodies of the slain.

You couldn’t call the stuff these people lived in mud – it was more like a thick slime, a clinging, sucking ooze capable of claiming grown men, even horses and mules.

Captain Alexander Stewart wrote “Most of the night was spent digging men out of the mud. The only way was to put duck boards on each side of him and work at one leg: poking and pulling until the suction was relieved. Then a strong pull by three or four men would get one leg out, and work would begin on the other…He who had a corpse to stand or sit on, was lucky”.

On first seeing the horror of Paschendaele, Sir Launcelot Kiggell broke down in tears. “Good God”, he said. “Did we really send men to fight in that?”

Doughnut LassiesOften unseen in times of such calamity, are the humanitarian workers.  Those who tend to the physical and spiritual requirements, the countless small comforts, of those in need.

Within days of the American declaration of war, Evangeline Booth, National Commander of the Salvation Army, responded, saying “The Salvationist stands ready, trained in all necessary qualifications in every phase of humanitarian work, and the last man will stand by the President for execution of his orders”.

These people are so much more than that donation truck, and the bell ringers we see behind those red kettles, in December.

Lieutenant Colonel William S. Barker of the Salvation Army left New York with Adjutant Bertram Rodda on June 30, 1917, to survey the situation. It wasn’t long before his not-so surprising request came back in a cable from France.  Send ‘Lassies’.Doughnut Lassies, 2.png

A small group of carefully selected female officers was sent to France on August 22.  That first party comprised six men, three women and a married couple.  Within fifteen months their number had expanded by a factor of 400.

In December 1917, a plea for a million dollars went out to support the humanitarian work of the Salvation Army, the YMCA, YWCA, War Camp Community Service, National Catholic War Council, Jewish Welfare Board, the American Library Association and others.  This “United War Work Campaign” raised $170 million in private donations, equivalent to $27.6 billion, today.

‘Hutments’ were formed all over the front, many right out at the front lines.  Religious services of all denominations were held in these facilities.  Concert performances were given, clothing mended and words of kindness were offered in response to all manner of personal problems.  There were canteen services.  On one occasion, the Loyal Order of Moose conducted an initiation at one of them.  Pies and cakes were baked in crude ovens and lemonade was served to hot and thirsty troops.  Of all these corporal works of mercy, the ones best remembered by the ‘doughboys’ themselves, were the doughnuts.

Helen Purviance, sent to France in 1917 with the American 1st Division, seems to have been first with the idea.  An ensign with the Salvation Army, Purviance and fellow ensign Margaret Sheldon first formed the dough by hand, later using a wine bottle in lieu of a rolling pin.  Having no doughnut cutter at the time, dough was shaped and twisted into crullers, and fried seven at a time on a pot-bellied wood stove.

The work was grueling.  The women worked well into the night that first day,  serving all of 150 hand-made doughnuts.  “I was literally on my knees,” Purviance recalled, but it was easier than bending down all day, on that tiny wood stove.  It didn’t seem to matter.  The men stood in line for hours, patiently waiting in the mud and the rain.  Their own little piece of warm, home-cooked heaven, in a world full of misery.

Before long, the women got better at it.  Soon they were turning out 2,500 to 9,000 doughnuts a day.  An elderly French blacksmith made Purviance a doughnut cutter, out of a condensed milk can and a camphor-ice tube, attached to a wooden block.

It wasn’t long before the aroma of hot doughnuts could be found, wafting all over the dugouts and trenches of the western front.  Volunteers with the Salvation Army and others made apple pies and all manner of other goodies, but the name that stuck, was “Doughnut Lassies”.

Doughnut Lassies, 1

A correspondent to the New York Times wrote in 1918 “When I landed in France I didn’t think so much of the Salvation Army; after two weeks with the Americans at the front I take my hat off… [W]hen the memoirs of this war come to be written the doughnuts and apple pies of the Salvation Army are going to take their place in history”.

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