Monday, December 28, 2015

Aerial Reconnaissance Photos of WWI Battlefields

Atlas Obscura has an overview (pun intended) on aerial Reconnaissance Photos of WWI Battlefields:
Aerial photography was a relatively new technique at the outset of World War I. Over the next four years, it became an invaluable reconnaissance tool. Cameras were developed for aerial use, but the process was still not easy. To note enemy positions accurately, clues in the resulting images, like shadows and soil displacement, had to be interpreted as well. 
As the book The Great War Seen From the Air recounts: “They took photographs from an open cockpit. The exposure had to be set manually and after every shot the glass negative had to be replaced and stored away. Meanwhile, the observer photographer combed the skies for enemy planes looking for observation planes to shoot down.” 
To read more, see the original posting.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Great works for the good of both serving and returning World War One veterans in Canada

This is a brief glimpse at the charitable work of the first Jewish-Canadian to be made an officer of the Order of the British Empire for her work with World War One veterans. It was written by Lynn Capuano, Army Public Affairs for the Canadian Army.

Lillian Freiman’s modus operandi was “do good by stealth.” As a result of her humility, her many great works for the good of both serving and returning World War One veterans and many other causes in Ottawa and Canada remain, unfortunately,  largely unrecognized in the 74 years since her passing.
Freiman was the first Jewish-Canadian to be made an officer of the Order of the British Empire, presented to her by King George V on New Year’s Day, 1934 for her work with war veterans. Her incredibly numerous and varied philanthropic efforts are too numerous to list here. She was unquestionably the most influential Jewish-Canadian woman of her generation.
She was the first woman to become an honourary life member of the Royal Canadian Legion, which she helped found. Some of her accomplishments include involvement with leadership roles in the Canadian Institute for the Blind, the Red Cross Society, the Amputations Association of Great War Veterans of Canada, the Salvation Army, Girl Guides of Canada, the Big Sisters’ Association, the YMCA, the Joan of Arc Society and many others. During the flu epidemic of 1918, she was called upon by the mayor of Ottawa to organize a 1 500-volunteer relief effort that gained national attention.
Indeed, it would be simpler to list those few organizations with which she did not work.
Canadian medic and soldier Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae’s famous poem In Flanders Fields led to the poppy becoming an official symbol of remembrance and a means of raising funds for veterans. Annual poppy campaigns began in the United States in 1918 and in France in 1920. In Ottawa, Freiman adopted the fundraiser and the first Canadian poppies were made in her living room in 1921. She was influential in the 1919 creation of the Vetcraft Shops, which employed returning servicemen to make furniture and toys. In 1923, they took over the poppy making. She was a member of the National Poppy Advisory Committee and chaired Ottawa’s annual poppy campaign nearly every year until her death.
At her funeral in 1940, her coffin was covered with red poppies and the event was attended by notables including Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, Ottawa Mayor Stanley Lewis, and representatives from every organization in which she served. A Royal Canadian Legion honour guard attended as did many of the 151 Ukrainian war orphans she had rescued.
The daughter of Ottawa’s earliest Jewish settlers, she was born Lillian Bilsky in 1885 in Mattawa, Ontario. From early childhood, she helped her father perform social service work in their community. It was second nature for her to continue on this path following her marriage in 1903 to A.J. Freiman, owner of Freiman’s Department Store on Rideau Street. The couple were leaders in the city's Jewish and business communities.
Within months of the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Freiman set up 30 sewing machines in her home and organized Red Cross sewing and knitting circles and sent sheets, blankets and clothing overseas. She helped found The Great War Veterans Association – the precursor to the Royal Canadian Legion – donating office space in her home and writing its first official letter in 1929.
Freiman travelled across Canada in 1921 to raise funds and find homes for 151 Jewish war orphans from the Ukraine to Canada. She and her husband adopted a young girl of 12 from the group.
The Freiman house was the hub of many philanthropic organizations, regardless of race, creed or religion and during the depression years, she opened a nearby hostel called Trafalgar House to help veterans find their way. No one in need left her door empty handed.
On December 29th, 1941 a tablet was unveiled by Major-General L.F. LaFleche, Associate Deputy Minister of National War Services at Trafalgar House that was inscribed: “In loving memory and to the honour of Mrs. A.J. (Lillian) Freiman, OBE, national officer and general convener in Ottawa of Canadian Legion Poppy Day. The friend of all soldiers and dependents who, in public and in private gave generous, warmhearted and always effectual service and assistance in their cause from the days of 1914-18 to the day of her passing November 2nd, 1940.”
Fast forward to 1957 when the Freimans’ Victorian-style mansion, located at 149 Somerset Street West in Ottawa, became the home of the Ottawa Army Officers’ Mess. The location of many an Army celebratory dinner, countless weddings and other events, it is a fitting legacy for this building that was steeped in so many good works involving soldiers, veterans and their families.
“The Army Officers’ Mess today carries on the traditions started by Mrs. Freiman as a place where soldiers are welcomed, says Lieutenant-Colonel (Retired) Dan Mackay, the Mess Historian who has been adding the finishing touches to the recently renovated Mess. LCol (Ret’d) Mackay was intrigued by the history of the house, especially when he began unravelling the many threads connecting the military, the mansion and Mrs. Freiman’s many and diverse charitable efforts in support of the war effort and of the returning soldiers.
As part of the renovation, he created a commemorative display of her contributions to war veterans and Canadian society on the wall of the hallway leading to the conservatory. “When I researched the history of the house, I couldn’t believe that she was not better known in Ottawa after all she had accomplished,” he says.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Number of Irish-born soldiers who died in US Army in WWI 3x higher than thought

The number of Irish-born soldiers who died in World War I while serving the U.S. army is actually three times higher than previous estimates, claims one genealogist.
Megan Smolenyak, the genealogist who traced Barack Obama's roots to Moneygall, Co Offaly, wrote in the current issue of Irish America magazine that previous research "significantly" understated the real losses of Irishmen in the Great War.
"Many more Irish-born were killed serving the American military than previously thought. The true figure may be 900 or 1,000, but it's likely somewhere in this neighborhood," Smolenyak said.
Previously experts have turned to America's army registration data to investigate the losses. However, the bulk of US military personnel records from 1912 to 1960 were destroyed by a fire in 1973.
After Smolenyak came across a New Jersey database focused on WWI soldiers, she discovered that 69 Irish-born individuals from New Jersey had died during the conflict. As 3,427 from NJ had died altogether, Smolenyak used basic arithmetic to conclude that about two percent were Irish nationals. She then applied a similar method to New York focusing on births, deaths and enlistment records, using census records, military abstracts and ancestry websites. She eventually estimated that 976 Irish nationals died fighting for the US.
"In spite of these measurement complications, I believe that 976 is a fair reckoning for men of Irish birth who gave their lives in service to the USA in the World War," she wrote in Irish America Magazine.
She says the biggest difference between the new numbers and older estimates is that she had the benefit of "hard casualty data.”
"These figures are more reflective and I've shared these figures and my thought process with the idea of provoking conversation," she recently told the Irish Independent
"I found 69 Irish-born men in the New Jersey database, but when I searched the Irish National War Memorial Roll of Honour, I could only find one of them included, so adding the other 68 would be an easy starting point – and that's just one single American state," she said.
"I'd love to see more local efforts like Longford at War to profile individual soldiers. Of all those I researched, this was the only website that acknowledged soldiers by his home county."

Smolenyak, whose Irish American grandfather served during the war, said she has always been "unnaturally obsessed" with the historical links between Ireland and the United States.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

All the ways man’s best friend helped soldiers in WWI

An exhibition at the Bishopsgate Institute in London, “Dogs of the First World War,” explores the role dogs played as messengers, sentries, carriers and trackers. Slide show follows brief Emirates Airlines video....

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


World War I has often been associated with intoxication in popular culture. Cocktails like the French 75, so named for the kick of a common artillery piece, became popular during the interwar period. During the “Spirit of 1914”– a burst of popular enthusiasm upon the war’s outbreak– European intellectuals likened war hysteria to mass intoxication  After the war, Ernst J√ľnger depicted modern combat as an intoxicating rush (or Rausch) in his popular novelizations of his own experiences on the Western Front. More recently, HBO’s Boardwalk Empire explored drug abuse, alcoholism, and the rise of organized crime through the stories of traumatized World War I veterans Jimmy Darmody and Richard Harrow. This entry explores how alcoholic intoxicants like wine and absinthe were used and depicted during the war. Our guide for this exploration is the poilu [1], the typical French soldier, and his fondness for wine.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

London's Pneumatic Tube Messaging System

London's pneumatic tube system provided a high-tech solution to "the last mile" message transmission challenge in Victorian London and well into the 20th century. As this exquisitely fascinating article mentions, it also played a role in World War I communications.

See Get Them On the Blower.

The name of Slough, a section of London, mentioned early in the article, rhymes with plow.

Pneumatic tubes are now most commonly seen at bank drive-up windows located on lanes not adjecent to the building.

As noted in the article, the pneumatic tube carriers were made of gutta percha. History buffs may remember that Congressman Preston Brooks was a Democratic Representative from South Carolina notorious for beating Senator Charles Sumner (Free Soil-Massachusetts), an abolitionist, with a cane on the floor of the United States Senate, on May 22, 1856. The cane was actually a gutta-percha walking stick. Brooks'ss act and the polarizing national reaction to it {even worse than Ferguson today) are frequently cited as a major factor leading to the Civil War.

The Jules Verne pneumatic tube trains are a pseudo-prototype of the maglev train, , one of Elon Musk's projects Elon Musk’s 800mph Hyperloop

Re speaking tubes on ships, you may recall these were used on the famous "Yellow Submarine," which is actually referred to in this article with reference to sound attenuation.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Reevaluating the Ottoman victory at Gallipoli

Churchill's dismal failure at Gallipoli and the Turk's own view of the "victory" are reviewed in an excellent article in The Smithsonian magazine.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Montana's Sedition Law Silenced All Dissent During WWI

Some 200 people were arrested, and approximately 125 people went to trial under the Montana Sedition Law, which criminalized nearly everything said or written against the American government and its conduct when it passed in February 1918. 

The penalties--a maximum of 10-to-20 years in prison and up to a $20,000 fine--were tough, and the pressure on “disloyal” citizens was relentless. The vast majority of people were rounded up for casual statements, off-the-cuff remarks deemed pro-German or anti-American. Citizens turned against one another, joining “patriotic” organizations like the Montana Loyalty League with its stated goal of keeping the Treasure State from “going over body and soul to the Kaiser.

Montana’s law fortified the restrictions in the Espionage Act, which Congress passed with the full support of the Woodrow Wilson administration in June 1917, two months after America entered World War I. It was intended to root out saboteurs, making it a crime to interfere with U.S. war efforts or to promote the country’s enemies, but that wasn’t enough for Montana. Paranoia rippled across the state, fueled by newspapers like the Billings Gazettefeaturing an October column asking: Are the Germans about the bomb the capital of Montana? Have they spies in the mountain fastnesses equipped with wireless stations and aeroplanes? Do our enemies fly around our high mountains where formerly only the shadow of the eagle swept?

Read more: