During the last two years of the WWI Centennial, Connie Ruzich and her blog Behind Their Lines, which shares lesser-known poetry of the First World War, have generously teamed up with WWrite with timely posts. Ruzich excels at drawing the past and present together by linking current events with pivotal moments from 1914-1918. Her archival work into the lost poetic voices of WWI has served as an incredible resource, providing discussion and research on international lost voices, poems written by those on the home front, and poetry that has been neglected in modern anthologies. In 2020, Ruzich will go from digital to print as she publishes her anthology, International Poetry of World War I: An Anthology of Lost Voices, with Bloomsbury Academic Press. This week, we have come together once more and WWrite has the pleasure of featuring her important post on "The Peace Christmas."
The Peace Christmas: that’s what many called the holiday season of the winter of 1918. Just weeks earlier, the Armistice ended the world war that had lasted for over four years, involved thirty-two nations, and killed an estimated 16 million. Yet though the war was over, most of the fighting men and women volunteers had not yet returned home but instead continued to serve overseas.
Drawing of the Ardennes in WWI by Wallace F. Hamilton. Image courtesy of Felicita Trueblood.
The Silver Greyhounds and My Father
During the WWI Centennial year articles have appeared in the media about the Silver Greyhounds, the Overseas Courier Service established in late summer 1918 to speed up the delivery of important communications between Washington, London, and Paris. The archives belonging to the commanding officer, Major Amos Peaslee, were recently donated to the State Department by Major Peaslee’s grandson. A portion of them is on display at the State Department’s Diplomacy Center.
100 Years of Diplomatic Couriers Exhibit at the U.S. Diplomacy Center. Image courtesy of diplomacy.state.gov
My father, Captain Wallace F. Hamilton, happened to be Major Peaslee’s assistant. He had served in the U.S. First Cavalry, the horse cavalry that protected the U.S./Mexican border in Southern California. General John “Black Jack” Pershing was in command of this operation. When it came time to establish the courier service, General Pershing assigned the task to a trusted cavalry officer, General James Harbord, who chose my father to be a part of this special unit. He had been plucked from the front in late August 1918 and told he was needed for special duty. As he made his way from Chateau Thierry to the Services of Supply in Tours, he made drawings of his observations.
Letters That You Will Not Get: Women’s Voices from the Great War By Susan Werbe
Letters That You Will Not Get: Women’s Voices from the Great War performance. Photo credit: Pegeen Rubinstein
November 11, 2018. The centenary of the Armistice found me attending a concert of commemoration at Harvard University. Held in the university’s Memorial Church, which was “dedicated on Armistice Day 1932 in memory of those [from Harvard] who died in World War I,” the university’s concert choir of Harvard undergraduates – men and women – performed songs written both 100 years ago and in the recent past. As I watched the sky slowly darken through the church windows, I was moved by the young voices that soared to the high ceiling, honoring the Harvard alumni and faculty, and Radcliffe alumnae whose lives were lost in The Great War.
Assyrian Sphinx at Kansas City WWI Memorial, "Future." Looking west toward the other Sphinx, "Memory." (Photo Credit: Eric Chandler)
I was running along the Bow River in Calgary. I stopped at a memorial next to the water. (I don’t need much convincing to rest.) It was six vertical stone slabs, engraved with the names of Calgary’s war dead from World War I through Afghanistan. Next to the slabs, there was a piece of steel that held the words “We Will Remember Them.” On the stone closest to the river, I read these words, engraved this way:
I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t immediately recognize these lines. I’ll blame oxygen debt. I got back to my hotel room and looked up the memorial and the inscription. The Calgary Soldiers’ Memorial was dedicated on April 9th, 2011, the anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. This fight was a notable victory accomplished by Canadian forces. The lines on the stone are from “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae, which is arguably one of the best-known poems to come out of the Great War. I must’ve read the poem before, but I didn’t remember the words and I didn’t realize the author was a Canadian. It was special to me to learn all this after running by a river in Canada. But it highlighted to me that World War I is a big gap in my knowledge.
Damagned Darul Arman Palace in Afghanistan. Image source: Brandon Caro
When I separated from the Navy in April 2009, I didn't have a plan. But I was interested in writing. Funds for the New GI Bill, which had been signed into law the previous year by President George W. Bush, were to be appropriated in time for the start of the school year that Autumn. I'd applied and been accepted to Texas State University in San Marcos, alma mater of President Lyndon Johnson.
I elected to become an English major. Up to that point I had never attempted to write anything serious, though I had thoroughly enjoyed working through writing tasks assigned to me in high school and later at community college in Norwalk, Connecticut. In my first semester at Texas State, I took a survey class in American Literature from about the last quarter of the Nineteenth Century up through the middle of the Twentieth with a professor called Allan Chavkin who remains a friend to this day.
One of the first readings assigned to us was Hemingway's "Big Two-Hearted River Parts I and II." I remember reading it for the first time on my laptop in my apartment in Austin, TX. The detail was so fine, and the writing was unlike anything I'd encountered up to that point.
Interview with Pulitzer Winner Robert Olen Butler: The Christopher Marlowe Cobb Thriller Series and the Importance of WWI
A Veterans Day/Armistice Day Centennial Day WWrite Exclusive!
An effigy of the ex-Kaiser Wilhelm in New York, one of the many hundreds on display that 1918 day. Getty Images
For Veterans Day and the Armistice Day Centennial, WWrite has had the honor to speak with Robert Olen Butler. Butler, who has been called the “best American living writer,” won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction in 1993 and the F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for Outstanding Achievement in American Literature in 2013. A Vietnam veteran and a former reporter, Butler unites war and journalism in his Christopher Marlowe Cobb espionage thriller series. Four books trace the journey of American spy, Kit Cobb, as he navigates his way through the most important aspects of the WWI-era. The Hot Country(2012),The Star of Istanbul(2013),The Empire of the Night(2014), and Paris in the Dark(2018), take the characters and plot through the Mexican Civil War, the sinking of the Lusitania, the use of Zeppelins, and trench warfare. Butler is best known for his literary fiction, but in this interview, he explains the equally-intricate, equally-literary process of writing spy novels against the historical tectonic shifts of 1914-1918, a time, he says, closely resembles our present era.