Tag Archives: WWI

WWI German U-Boats Discovered Off UK Coast

Frank Thadeusz in Der Spiegel, July 21, 2013:

British archaeologists recently discovered more than 40 German U-boats sunk during World War I off the coast of England. Now they are in a race against time to learn the secrets hidden in their watery graves.

On the old game show “What’s My Line?” Briton Mark Dunkley might have been described with the following words: “He does what many adventurers around the world can only dream of doing.”

Dunkley is an underwater archeologist who dives for lost treasures. His most recent discoveries were anything if not eerie.

On the seafloor along the southern and eastern coasts of the UK, Dunkley and three other divers have found one of the largest graveyards in the world’s oceans, with 41 German and three English submarines from World War I. Most of the submarines sank with their crews still on board, causing many sailors to die in horrific ways, either by drowning or suffocating in the cramped and airtight submarines.

Several U-boats with the German Imperial Navy are still considered missing today. Lists provide precise details on which of the U-boats the German naval forces had lost by the time the war ended in November 1918.

But it was completely unclear what had happened, for example, to UB 17, under the command of naval Lieutenant Albert Branscheid, with its crew of 21 men, or where the 27-member crew of UC 21, used as a minelayer and commanded by naval Lieutenant Werner von Zerboni di Sposetti, had perished.

Securing British and German Heritage

But now things have changed.

Dunkley and his team of divers found UB 17 off England’s east coast, near the county of Suffolk. UC 21 sank nearby. The fate of many other submarines, especially those that had suddenly disappeared in the last two years of the war, can now be considered known.

All of the sunken U-boats are relatively close to the coast, at depths of no more than 15 meters (about 50 feet). The diving archeologists will undoubtedly find the remains of sailors with the German Imperial Navy inside the wrecks. In the language of archeology, such finds are referred to as “disaster samples.” In any case, the divers will be searching for signs of the crewmembers that died inside the U-boats.

“We owe it to these people to tell their story,” says Dunkley. He works for English Heritage, a public body that is part of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Its primary mission is to secure Britain’s cultural heritage.

The British could see it as a peculiar irony of history that these measures are now benefiting the heritage of their former enemy. Since the Germans attacked civilian targets in World War I, British propaganda derisively referred to the submarines as “baby killers.”

“Many have forgotten how successful the German U-boat fleet was for a time,” says Dunkley — an assessment that is by no means intended to glorify the German attacks. In fact, one of the goals of the most recent English Heritage project is to remind people that, although they might be more familiar with submarine warfare from World War II, the ships also caused considerable devastation in the previous world war.

A Slowly Embraced Weapon

Indeed, it had practically vanished from popular memory that the Germans caused great losses to their main enemy, Great Britain, in World War I through targeted torpedo strikes against the royal merchant navy. At the beginning of the war, there were only 28 U-boats under the supreme command of Kaiser Wilhelm II, a tiny number compared to the Allied fleet.

At first, many political decision-makers in Berlin were unclear about exactly how the military devices, which were still novel at the time, could be used. Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz had such a low opinion of the importance of the steel diving vessels that he even referred to them as a “secondary weapon.”

An operations order signed by Kaiser Wilhelm on July 30, 1914 also assigned a secondary role to the U-boats at first. Under the order, they were to be used primarily to engage hostile ships in naval battles with the Imperial High Seas Fleet, which had been upgraded at considerable cost.

But after a German U-boat sank three English armored cruisers, an unbridled enthusiasm erupted in the German Empire for this still relatively untested form of naval warfare. A large number of volunteers signed up for submarine duty, even though serving in the cramped cabins was practically a suicide mission at the time, especially in comparison with the types of underwater vessels used in World War II and, even more so, today’s submarines.

The conditions inside the boats were claustrophobic and extremely hot. There were cases in which entire crews were wiped out when a torpedo misfired. Likewise, since aiming torpedoes was still such an imprecise science, the submarines had to come dangerously close to enemy warships. And if spotted, they became easy prey: Early submarines moved through the water so slowly that enemy warships could easily take up pursuit and sink the attackers, either with depth charges or by ramming. In fact, some 187, or almost half, of the 380 U-boats used by the German navy in World War I were lost.

A Race Against Time

Dunkley and his colleagues examine the wrecks with ultrasound sonar devices they wear on their wrists like watches. The devices allow them to measure wall thickness and determine the extent to which corrosion has already eaten away at a ship’s hull.

Measures to secure the vessels are urgently needed, says Dunkley. Since the U-boat graveyard at sea is gradually disintegrating, time is of the essence for the archeologists. Under the strict guidelines of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, the World War I wrecks sitting on the seafloor are currently not even considered archeological artifacts deserving special protection.

The disintegrating war machines are currently just shy of the 100 years required to attain this status. For this reason, Dunkley’s team is trying to wrest as many secrets as possible from the wrecks in the coming months.

In cases where mines or torpedoes have torn large holes into the vessels, the archeologists can even peer inside. When this is not the case, robotic vehicles will cut open the hatches of the steel coffins and go inside.

“We divers only approach the boats with great caution. Venturing inside would definitely be extremely dangerous,” Dunkley says.

It is hard to determine how almost a century of lying in place, as well as sedimentary deposits, have changed the structural integrity of the wrecks. If a U-boat turns over as a result of the divers’ movements, its narrow corridors could become deathtraps.

The treatment of the crews’ remains is also complicated. By law, the sites are considered inviolable gravesites. Nevertheless, the archeologists don’t want to miss the opportunity to try to recover other signs of the erstwhile sailors in the underwater crypts. “Perhaps we’ll find a cup or a sign with a name on it,” Dunkley says.

Attacking and Sinking in Groups

The marine archeologists were struck by the fact that sometimes two or three German U-boats were found lying in close proximity to one another. For historians, this serves as evidence of a certain German combat strategy in an especially drastic phase of the U-boat war.

In February 1917, the Imperial Navy had altered its strategy and was now torpedoing and firing guns at British commercial ships on a large scale. The Royal Navy reacted by providing the freighters with warship escorts, as well as using airships and aircraft to spot enemy submarines from above.

German military strategists devised a plan to break up these massive convoys: attacking the naval convoys with several U-boats at the same time. But the strategy was difficult to implement because it was very difficult to coordinate such complex maneuvers at the time.

Historians are divided over whether the convoy system ultimately saved the United Kingdom from defeat or whether it was the United States’ entry into the war on April 6, 1917.

Before then, the British had relied on creativity to fend off U-boats and other enemy ships. The hulls of their own ships were painted with confusing patterns designed by artists at the Royal Academy in London. But there is no historical evidence to prove that this measure saved even a single ship from the German torpedoes.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


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Ghost Stories from WWI

Randy Boswell in Montreal Gazette, July 1, 2013:

One of Canada’s top military historians has published the first serious study of the First World War’s eeriest phenomena: frontline soldiers’ accounts of ghosts and other “supernatural experiences” amid the bloody battles of Europe almost a century ago.

Award-winning author Tim Cook, the Canadian War Museum’s leading expert on the 1914-18 conflict, has unearthed a host of poignant and spine-tingling stories involving bizarre apparitions, life-saving premonitions and other unexplained happenings that — beyond the mysteries that linger — shed fresh light on “the unending mental and physical strain of fighting on the edge of No Man’s Land.”

Writing in the Journal of Military History, the field’s most prestigious scholarly publication, Cook describes how the knife-edge existence of Canada’s troops in battles such as Passchendaele and Vimy Ridge — perhaps fuelled by widespread interest in the occult and spiritualism in the early 20th century — led some men to believe they’d seen dead comrades resurrected and wandering the scarred landscapes of the Western Front.

In other cases, soldiers claimed to have seen angels hovering over battlefields or felt an “otherworldly” presence that somehow silenced enemy guns to allow escapes from vulnerable positions.

“As a threshold borderland, the Western Front was a place for such spectral thinking and haunting, where the strange was made ordinary, where the safe was infused with danger, where death was natural and life fleeting,” writes Cook, author of an acclaimed, two-volume history of the First World War. “The unnatural, supernatural, uncanny and ghostly offered succour to some soldiers, who embraced these ‘grave beliefs’ to make sense of their war experience.”

Cook vividly describes how the living and the dead were gruesomely mingled in the muddy trenches of wartime France and Belgium, where fighting men “became martyred corpses in the blink of an eye” and the unrelenting carnage encouraged a heightened awareness of the thin line between life and afterlife — or, at times, a perceptual blurring of the line.

“Grimy, exhausted soldiers, covered in mud, asleep on a fire step or in a funk hole could easily be mistaken for the dead,” Cook observes. “It was not lost on the soldiers that they seemed to be digging extended graves — the trenches — to protect themselves from death-dealing artillery shells. And, in sick irony, the artillery bombardments often buried the living and disgorged the dead.”

One well-known story from the war is highlighted in Cook’s study: Cpl. Will Bird’s moving description of the night his brother’s “ghost” saved him from certain death. Bird, who had a postwar career as a Nova Scotia journalist and published his war memoirs under the title Ghosts Have Warm Hands, had written about a night after the 1917 Battle of Vimy Ridge when he was suddenly stirred from deep slumber under a tarp he’d been sharing with two fellow soldiers near the front line.

“Before dawn, warm hands shook him,” Cook recounts. “Wiping away sleep, he looked with amazement at his brother Steve,” who had been reported missing in action in 1915. “Steve led him through some ruins, when he suddenly rounded a corner and disappeared.”

Cpl. Bird, settled for sleep in the new location, dismissed his brother’s ghostly appearance as a “hallucination.” But in the morning, he was stunned to learn that the two other soldiers under the tarp had suffered a “direct hit from a high explosive shell” and were “dismembered beyond all recognition.”

Another Canadian soldier wrote to his mother that, “One night while carrying bombs, I had occasion to take cover when about twenty yards off I saw you looking towards me as plain as life.” Dumbstruck, he “crawled nearly to the place where your vision appeared” as a German shell slammed into the place he had just left behind.

“Had it not been for you, I certainly would have been reported ‘missing,’” the soldier wrote. “You’ll turn up again, won’t you, mother, next time a shell is coming?”

Cook, who also teaches history at Carleton University, said his research has always focused on “how these young men coped and endured at the front.”

Embracing magical or mystical explanations for what happened during the war, he told Postmedia News, “was a common response for some soldiers who lived in a space of destruction and death. As I read the memoirs, letters, and diaries of soldiers I kept encountering the uncanny, the supernatural, and even the spectral.”

He added that while Bird’s account of being delivered from harm by his lost brother is a staple of Canadian war narratives, other such “crisis apparitions” had not been well documented and “no historian really has attempted to understand what that central story meant to Bird.”

While researching the subject, Cook said, he encountered those kinds of stories “over and over again. I kept coming back to the ways that soldiers dealt with death — by being callous towards it, or embracing it, or finding ways to live with it.”


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WWI and Facebook

Here’s an interesting concept from Facebook. Saya Weissman in Digiday.com, June 18, 2013:

Musée de la la Grande Guerre du pays de Meaux, a museum in France devoted to World War I, with the help of DDB Paris, came up with a fun way to use Facebook as a way to make history a more human experience through digital media.

For “Facebook 1914,” which is a Cannes entry in the “Social Media & Viral Marketing” category, DDB Paris created Facebook profile for a fictional French WWI soldier, Leon Vivien. The agency created Vivien and his identity as a teacher who was thrown into the war based on all of the museum’s information and with the help of historian Jean-Pierre Verney.

According to Vivien’s profile, he was born in Paris on Sept. 10, 1885. His first Facebook posts begin on June 28, 1914, the day of the shot heard ’round the world when Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated and set off the beginning of WWI. Vivien’s Facebook posts include comments between him and friends who have already joined the army, his life as a teacher, and then once he was accepted on April 10, 1915, his Facebook posts give people an inside look into what life was like for a WWI soldier. Vivien’s posts include details about training and weapons, historical images of WWI, descriptions of battles and life in the trenches. Vivien’s posts continue until May 27, 1915, the date of his death.

This isn’t the first time that social media has been used to recreate history. There is the @RealTimeWWII Twitter account that tweets out in “real-time” WWI events as they happened on the same date and time in 1941 and will continue for five years. However, the use of Facebook, rather than Twitter, for this campaign makes it much more of a personal narrative. The format and layout of the Facebook timeline really lends itself to this kind of historical depiction, and the use of comments from other fictional historical figures and status updates revealing Vivien’s fears about war, his family at home and details like the ground vibrating as explosions and battles wage on really create a vivid picture of what life was like then for WWI soldiers.

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UK Students To Visit WWI Battlefields

From bbc.co.uk, June 10, 2013:

Two pupils and a teacher from each state school in England will be sent to visit French and Belgian battlefields to mark the World War I centenary, the government has said.

They will be asked to research local people who fought in the war as part of the £5.3m government-funded scheme.

A four-year £50m centenary programme will also include a candle-lit vigil at Westminster Abbey on 4 August 2014.

It will end at 2300 BST – exactly 100 years after war was declared.
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“Start Quote

Those four years changed British society forever and it is absolutely vital that we all remember the price paid”

Maria Miller Culture Secretary

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said pupils sent on the battlefield trips, which will take place between spring 2013 and March 2019, would be able to “pay tribute to the fallen, to understand the scale of the suffering inflicted by the war to end all wars”.

“Above all, these visits are a reminder that the First World War is not ancient history but a shared history that unites our country,” he said.

“All of us have some connection with the conflict. No community was untouched by a family tragedy.”

Culture Secretary Maria Miller, announcing the “national acts of remembrance”, referred to a remark attributed to then-foreign secretary Viscount Edward Grey at the announcement of the war that “the lamps are going out all over Europe”.

“A hundred years later, we will extinguish the last candle in Westminster Abbey to commemorate that hour as a mark of respect and remembrance that will set the tone for the events to come,” she said.
Claude Choules in 1936 Claude Choules, the last known combat veteran of World War I, died in 2011, aged 110.

She also revealed the vigil would be preceded on 4 August 2014 by wreath-laying at Glasgow’s Cenotaph and at a military cemetery in Mons, Belgium, where British and German soldiers are buried.

She said the war saw “huge suffering and enormous sacrifice and our centenary programme will mark it with both sorrow and pride, as is fitting”.

“Those four years changed British society forever and it is absolutely vital that we all remember the price paid,” she said.
‘Share heritage’

Ms Miller said the “centrepiece” of the commemorations would be the reopening of London’s Imperial War Museum – founded in 1917 to record the ongoing conflict – following the refurbishment of its World War I galleries.

Other activities planned include:

Events to commemorate the start of the battles of the Somme, Jutland, Gallipoli and Passchendaele as well as Armistice Day
At least £15m from the Heritage Lottery Fund to help young people “conserve ,explore and share local heritage” of the war
An already-announced grant of up to £1m to transform HMS Caroline into a floating museum in Belfast
A £10m programme of cultural events

Meanwhile, critics say the government is not doing enough to explain the reasons behind the war.

Historian Sir Max Hastings said ministers had taken a “non-judgemental approach”.
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The First World War

The First World War began in the summer of 1914 and ended on 11 November 1918 – which subsequently became Armistice Day.
It involved all the world’s major powers, but centred on a conflict in Europe between the Central Powers (Austria-Hungary, Germany, the Ottoman Empire) and the Allied forces (Britain, France, Russia).
It was sparked by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Austria-Hungary blamed Serbia for the killing and because Europe was linked by a series of diplomatic alliances the affair escalated into full-scale war.
Over 4.5m Britons served as soldiers during the war (in addition to over 3m troops from the British Empire).
Around 8m soldiers were killed – including 947,000 soldiers from the British Empire.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme they were “not willing to say outright what the historians I most respect believe, which is the First World War was not morally different from the Second World War – it was an unspeakable experience for Europe and the British people but it was for a cause worth fighting”.

He said it was “as important that we prevailed over the Germany of that period as it was over the Germany of the Nazi era”.

“The government is never slow to say that Hitler was to blame for the Second World War. I think the government is very frightened of taking any sort of view that might suggest we upset the Germans all over again.”

But Ms Miller, also speaking to Today, said: “I think the role of the government here is clearly to help to set out the facts so that people can make their own minds up.

“I think in Britain we have fantastic historians who are able to do that for us.”

The last known combat veteran of World War I, Claude Choules, died in Australia in 2011, aged 110.

Known to his comrades as Chuckles, British-born Mr Choules joined the Royal Navy at 15 and went on to serve on HMS Revenge.

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Clash Between WWI and Bannockburn Memorials Feared

David Maddox for scotsman.com, April 28, 2013:

MPs and peers have called on the Scotland Office to take a leading role in the First World War centenary commemorations next year amid fears that they will be sidelined by the Scottish Government in favour of the 700th anniversary of Bannockburn.

Scotland on Sunday has learned that a meeting was held last week during which peers and MPs from across the parties raised concerns that the SNP Government is lagging behind the rest of the UK in meeting grassroots demands for events to mark the centenary of the start of the conflict.

The accusations that the First World War centenary is not being taken as seriously as Bannockburn has been denied by the Scottish Government and there was anger from SNP MPs that they were not invited to the cross-party meeting attended by more than 20 Scottish MPs and peers.

During the meeting Scottish Secretary Michael Moore was called on to “fill the gap” left by the Scottish Government and get his department to start facilitating events north of the Border.

With 2014 also being the year of the independence referendum, concerns were raised that SNP ministers are more interested in marking the 700th anniversary of Bannockburn, which has seen more than £5 million of investment so far.

Labour peer Lord George Foulkes said: “The First World War was very much about the Union and different parts of the UK standing together whereas Bannockburn was, of course, about fighting the English.

“Quite a number of peers and MPs were worried that the Scottish Government wants to play down the First World War commemorations because of this. This is why we wanted the Scotland Office, on behalf of the UK Government, to fill the gap and take the lead in Scotland.”

Labour Glasgow North MP Ann McKechin said: “There has been a lot of emphasis from the Scottish Government on Bannockburn for political reasons but these events should not be a political football.”

There was anger from the SNP’s chief whip in Westminster, Pete Wishart, that his party had been excluded from the meeting. He said: “We have made it clear we want to play a full part in the First World War commemorations. This issue should not be politicised and it is extremely disappointing that we were not invited.

“I hope that there was not a political motive to our exclusion.”

Last October, Prime Minister David Cameron, announced more than £50m had been allocated for a “historic” commemoration of the centenary of the start of the First World War. An advisory board was set up to oversee the events including Culture Secretary Maria Miller, former Nato Secretary-General George Robertson, former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell, former chief of the defence staff Jock Stirrup and former chief of the general staff Richard Dannatt.

Among the projects announced by the Prime Minister were a “massive” transformation of the Imperial War Museum, a major programme of national commemorative events “properly funded and given the proper status they deserve” and an educational programme “to create an enduring legacy for generations to come”.

So far in Scotland £1m has been allocated by the Scottish Government to renovate war memorials and a panel of experts, led by former army chaplain Norman Drummond, has been tasked with coming up with a programme of events to mark the anniversary.

Meanwhile, SNP ministers have allocated £5m towards the National Trust for Scotland’s new Bannockburn visitor centre and £250,000 towards the Battle of Bannockburn re-enactment event.

The Scottish Government last night insisted that the First World War events and Bannockburn commemoration should not be compared.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Scottish Government will take forward a programme of events to mark the commemoration of the Great War.

“A large amount of local activity is planned across Scotland already and the national programme of events for Scotland will be confirmed in due course. It will receive appropriate financial backing.”

She went on: “The commemoration of the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn is an entirely separate issue.”

A Scotland Office spokesman confirmed that the Secretary of State for Scotland had met a number of MPs and peers last week to discuss the plans to commemorate the First World War next year.

“We are planning a range of events, including those to remember, among others, the Scots who fell in the Great War and we will work closely with a range of partners, including the Scottish Government, to ensure they are a fitting ­tribute to those who fought and died for their country,” he said.

Scotland’s sacrifice: share of sorrow

More Scots enlisted for the British Army during the Great War, in terms of per head of population, than any other part of the UK.

Government records from the time show that from 1914 to 1918, 557,618 Scots signed up to fight, compared with 4,006,158 from England, 272,924 Welsh and 134,202 Irish.

Inspired by patriotism and a sense of camaraderie, this elevated figure meant that Scotland’s sacrifice was destined to be proportionately greater than the rest of the country.

Of the estimated 745,000 British casualties recorded, it is believed that 130,000 were Scots.

The Royal Scots Regiment alone fielded 15 out of its 35 battalions in active duty during the First World War. More than 100,000 men passed through their ranks, of whom 11,162 were killed and more than 40,000 wounded.

The regiment received 71 battle honours, and six Victoria Crosses were awarded to members of its ranks, as well as innumerable individual medals.

The names of those Scots who gave their lives are commemorated in a memorial in Edinburgh Castle, designed by architect Robert Lorimer with the help of some 200 artists and craftsmen.

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New WWI Trenches Discovered

From BBCnews, April 19, 2013:

An entire network of World War I trenches has been discovered on the Hoo Peninsula in Kent.

Invisible from the ground, they were identified through aerial images of the area next to the former Chattenden Barracks.

Historian Martin Brown said the find was “very important”.

He said some features of the trenches, which were used for experimentation and soldier training, were exactly the same as those seen in Belgium.

The discovery has led historians to rethink the training and preparation soldiers received before being sent to the front.
Trenches reconstruction at Hoo Peninsula The trenches can be directly linked to those used in Belgium in WW1

The full story is to be told in a BBC One programme on Friday.

It sees archaeologist Ben Robinson fly along the River Thames to discover a part of military history that was lost in just a few generations.

“What’s fascinating is that the aerial photographs have illuminated part of our history which was almost forgotten,” Mr Robinson said.

“They weren’t just practising trench building at Chattenden, they were experimenting, they were trying to create new ways to keep the soldiers as safe as possible, as effective as possible.”
‘Top secret’

The Hoo Peninsula was seen as a forgotten backwater, but aerial archaeology has established it was at the centre of the development of military technology.

“Much of the work done here was top secret and very few records were kept,” Mr Robinson said.

“Experiments in trench design, airship construction and explosives all took place here and they had a profound effect on the course of WWI.”
Hoo peninsula Much of the area’s history is being recorded before it is destroyed by coastal erosion and development

Much of the area’s history is being recorded from the air before it is destroyed by coastal erosion and development.

The trenches are just one of the features revealed by the first full aerial survey of the area by English Heritage.

The world’s first Brennan torpedo launch point has been discovered at Cliffe Fort, and Mr Robinson also identifies a new site with the help of aerial photos.

The previously unidentified buildings were part of a complex where the Royal Navy designed, built and tested their airships.

A small collection of buildings that lay in obscurity for decades is also identified as a World War I anti-aircraft battery – Britain’s first purpose built anti-aircraft gun emplacement.

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Black Doctors in WWI

Article taken from http://www.army.mil, February 21, 2013:

Nearly 100 years ago, in the era of segregation and Jim Crow laws, 118 African-American doctors answered the country’s call during World War I and voluntarily left their practices to provide medical care to the fighting men in the all-black 92nd Infantry Division and the 93rd Infantry Division.

The medical colleges of Howard University in Washington, D.C., and Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn., heavily recruited their graduates and provided more than half of these doctors – 43 from Meharry and 22 from Howard.

When asked at the time by The Washington Bee newspaper why he volunteered, a black doctor from Indianapolis put it simply: “This is a history-making period, and I want to be connected with it.”

On Nov. 3, 1917, eight of these black physicians were sent to the newly established Camp Meade for further training and to provide care for the African-American troops of the 368th Infantry Regiment and 351st Field Artillery, which were stationed there.

The doctors were Arthur L. Curtis and Thomas E. Jones, graduates of the College of Medicine at Howard University; Oscar DeVaughn, Raymond W. Jackson, John H. Williams and James Whittico, graduates of Meharry Medical College; William A. Harris, a graduate of Leonard Medical College in Raleigh, N.C.; and William J. Howard, a graduate of the University of Illinois College of Medicine.

The physicians received specialized training in treating war injuries at Camp Meade Hospital. During their training, the hospital was made up of temporary wooden buildings and tents. It was located along what is now Rock Avenue, about one-half mile south of Kimbrough Ambulatory Care Center.

Before arriving at Camp Meade, the doctors attended the Medical Officers Training Camp (MOTC) for black medical officers, which was a late addition to the segregated Officers Training Camp at Fort Des Moines, Iowa.

The doctors at the MOTC, who were first lieutenants, were housed in whatever spare barracks were left from the field officers. More than 1,000 African-American Soldiers also reported for training as medics. These medics had to use lumber from an old National Guard armory to floor the stables, which lacked plumbing, heating or a cooling system. The men turned the unsuitable buildings into barracks for nearly 1,000 medics.

Training at the camp began in the heat of August 1917. The doctors learned how to make camp, sanitation procedures, regimental medical-detachment administration, camp infirmary work, packing, bearer work and field work.

The physicians also were given command of five- to 10-man medical detachments.

Many training hours also were spent on paperwork, including writing and filing regular Army daily and weekly reports. The reports included lists with the numbers and names of sick and injured men, as well as those who were suffering from veneral disease, tuberculosis, meningitis, cholera, pneumonia and influenza. Sanitation was critical to preventing epidemics.

Of the 118 doctors who were trained at the MOTC, 104 successfully completed the program. Of the 1,021 medics, 949 would continue and ultimately serve with the 92nd or 93rd Infantry Divisions.

Eight of the doctors from the MOTC went on to Camp Meade.

By May 1918, they left for France. They would all serve with the 92nd Infantry Division. Harris, Jones, Williams and Whittico remained with the 368th Infantry Regiment. DeVaughn was assigned the 365th Field Hospital. Howard stayed with the 351st Field Artillery. Jackson and Curtis joined the 367th Field Hospital.

All of these doctors treated the horrific wounds of trench warfare largely caused by artillery (gas and shrapnel) and machine guns. Their Army reports tell of the

carnage they encountered, and the lightening spread of the influenza pandemic that would reach its height just before the great Meuse Argonne offensive in September 1918.

The 18 months of Army training and war experiences certainly equipped them well beyond anything they had learned in medical school. They were given command of medical detachments, which taught them leadership, discipline and responsibility. They learned military organization, planning and training, and participated in grand- and small-scale field operations.

Many of the men used the organizational skills and medical advances that came as a result of the war to make extraordinary contributions to the field of medicine, their communities and their country.

Editor’s note: Joann Buckley and Douglas Fisher are members of the World War One Association and The Great War Society.

Fisher’s grandfather Maj. John N. Douglas served with 1st Lt. Jonathan N. Rucker, a black doctor, in France from 1918 to 1919.

Buckley’s grandfather was a sergeant in New York’s 7th Infantry Division, and her grandmother was a registered nurse who worked with wounded Soldiers.

They are now researching and writing a book on the 104 black doctors who completed medical officer basic training at Fort Des Moines, Iowa.

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