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WWI Soldiers From the French Colonies: "They took part in the history of France"

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WWI Soldiers From the French Colonies: "They took part in the history of France"
A Webdocumentary Gives Voice to the Forgotten on the French Riviera

by Stéphanie Trouillard


TrouillardMentonImage from webdocumentary, 14-18: A name for the Tirailleurs at Menton. Image courtesy of France 24.


Tirailleur is a French military term coined during the Napoleonic era that referred to rifleman known in English as "skirmishers:" light infantry stationed to act as a vanguard, flank guard, or rearguard, screening a tactical position or a larger body of friendly troops from enemy advances.  They are supposed to get into skirmishes, or light fighting, to harass the enemy and lower morale. The French Army recruited men from colonies like Senegal or Algeria to play this role in numerous wars, including the Crimean War and the French Intervention in Mexico.

While their title indicates they played a minor role, these soldiers were often the enemy's first fatal targets. During the First World War, several thousand Senegalese, Malagasy and Indochinese tirailleurs, who served on the Western Front and in Gallipoli, stayed in palaces and hotels in the town of Menton, on the Côte d'Azur, which were transformed into military hospitals. Many died there as a result of the wounds and diseases contracted on the various fronts. 

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In a Lonely Forest: Josef Rust Found

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In a Lonely Forest: Josef Rust Found
Connie Ruzich Uncovers Lyricist for Ernst Brockman's "Soon, All Too Soon"

RancourtGerman graves in the SommeRancourt German Cemetery

In August of 2017, the World War One Centennial Commission blog shared Patricia Hammond’s story of a haunting First World War song and the search that led to the identification of the forgotten composer’s body and his reburial. Hammond wrote further about her personal experience for WWrite this winter. Hammond is a British musician who has performed and recorded  songs of the Great War with Matt Redman, such as “Pack Up Your Troubles,” “Over There,” and “Roses of Picardy.”*  Wanting to include German songs on a CD they were preparing, they purchased from a German antiquarian a 1917 collection of forgotten tunes, Weltkrieglieder(World War Songs),  and were immediately struck by the beauty of one tune: “Bald, allzubalde” (“Soon, all too soon”).  The sheet music provided the information that the melody had been written on April 20, 1916 by Ernst Brockmann, who was killed at the battle of Verdun just weeks later, on June 7, 1916. 

RUSTFrom Josef Rust's Photo Album

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Robert Frost, WWI Poet

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Robert Frost: A poet for whom life and war were trials by existence

By Jim Dubinsky

FrostpictureRobert Frost in 1943. (Eric Schaal/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images). Courtesy https://www.loa.org/writers/271-robert-frost

When scholars write of war poets, few consider Robert Frost. Certainly, if the definition of a war poet is one who has experienced the turmoil and vicissitudes of combat, Frost does not qualify. However, if one is willing to consider poets who offer insight into connections between war and the human condition, then Frost surely fits the bill.*

Reading Frost’s poems, essays, letters, and gaining insight from a range of biographical perspectives has led me to understand a key component of his personal philosophy: Robert Frost believed in the inevitability of violence. For him, violence and war were natural.  He often made statements reflecting this belief. In his private letters to his friend Louis Untermeyer, he argued that  “Life is like battle” (285) and “War is the natural state of man” (373).  

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The Break of Day - Poet Isaac Rosenberg

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The Break of Day - Isaac Rosenberg

BreakofDayScene post-WWI battle courtesy http://www.williamshawblackwatch.co.uk/tag/neuve-chapelle/

This post follows up on Mike Schuster's The Great War Project report about Easter 2018 featured on the WWI Centennial News Podcast for April 6, 2018.  In the context of the stalling German offensive in the spring of 2018, Schuster discussed the WWI British poet, Isaac Rosenberg, who died on Easter Sunday.

"Break of Day in the Trenches"

Isaac Rosenberg's "Break of Day in the Trenches" provides one of the most disturbing examples of the dark, macabre humor found in the later WWI poetry that sought to demystify the virtues of honor, glory, and patriotism associated with combat. The speaker in the poem –presumably a WWI soldier in the trenches– begins by conversing with a rat as he looks out to no man's land from the trenches with the rising dawn:

The darkness crumbles away.

It is the same old druid Time as ever,

Only a live thing leaps my hand,

A queer sardonic rat,

As I pull the parapet’s poppy

To stick behind my ear.

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"This Loneliest Hour" - Vera Brittain

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On Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth, and Extract from Chapter 9, "This Loneliest Hour"

Testament of Youth PosterTestament of Youth film adaptation poster

In 2016, The Guardian journalist, Robert McCrum listed Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth as the 42nd best non-fiction book of all times. What follows are extracts from his article and a passage from the Testament of Youth's Chapter 9:

"Testament of Youth was written by Vera Brittain, a woman approaching 40 who had spent some 17 years coming to terms with her singular experience of the first world war – as a girl, a fiancee, a feminist, a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurse and, finally, as the sorrowing victim of intolerable grief. Brittain’s is one of several memoirs inspired by the fighting in Flanders, but it made a lasting impact through the raw passion of its anti-war message and its rather modern confessional candour. 

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Josephine: Government Girl, 1918

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Josephine: Government Girl, 1918

by Margaret Thomas Buchholz

Jo fancydressJosephine Lehman Thomas. She writes in her diary: "June 1918: The gowns were of the real evening variety. I have gotten entirely over being shocked by such a display of arms and necks. After I have some new glad rags I am going to have some large pictures taken to astonish the Ionians by the general absentness of the upper part of my gown." Photo courtesy of Margaret Thomas Buchholz.

My mother, Josephine Lehman Thomas, who spent the last half of her life in Harvey Cedars, NJ, was a “government girl” in Washington DC during World War I. She lived as a determinedly modern young woman who relished the wartime excitement of the nation's capital – with its soldiers, movie stars, and international celebrities. She kept a detailed diary from 1917 until the late twenties, when she was a researcher and ghostwriter for Lowell Thomas. Her entries offer a lively record of city life at the time. The following is excerpted from her story which appeared in Washington History, Vol. 10, No. 2 (Fall/Winter, 1998/1999) and was later expanded into my book, Josephine: from Washington Working Girl to Fisherman’s Wife. (www.down-the-shore.com/josephine.html). The captions to the photos in this post also come from her diary.

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