Sunday, November 11, 2018

Armistice Day 2018

From Metro News in the U.K.:
As we approach the centenary of the Armistice on November 11, the Imperial War Museum has released a recording of the moment the war ended, patched together using recordings from their collections. The artillery activity it illustrates was recorded on the American front near the River Moselle, one minute before and one minute after the war ended. Read more here
My paternal grandparents, Raymond Shay (Big Danny to his grandkids) and Florence Green (Mudder), were both near the action in the closing days of the war. My grandfather was a cavalry officer with the Iowa National Guard and my grandmother was a nurse serving at Evac Hospital No. 8. Several years ago, I printed Mudder's diary (with commentary) on these pages. Here are her entries from Nov. 9-12:
November 9: The Germans have until Monday 11am, am crazy to know how every thing is going to turn out. Am waiting to go on a candy making party but looks like we won’t go tonight as the officers can’t come, such as life, just full of disappointments.
November 10: Busy as could be today, tomorrow is the day which decides about the war, am so anxious to hear the return.
November 11: Am some happy tonight to think the war is really over. I cannot believe it. Haven’t heard a gun since 11am. Great celebrating everywhere. Can almost hear the city hall in Baltimore ringing, and what a wonderful time for Paris.
November 12: Nothing exciting happened, patients coming in slowly. Took a walk. Our orders came. We go Evac to #15, hope from there to #2.
The U.S.-led Meuse-Argonne offensive was still in process, with nurses at Evac #8 working around the clock. Researcher Dr. Marian Moser Jones of the University of Maryland read Mudder's diary and had this response:
As she notes in her diary, Florence was sent to evacuation Hospital number 8 during the end of the Meuse Argonne Offensive in late October, after stints at Evacuation Hospitals 1 and 4. Evacuation Hospitals were nearer the front than base hospitals. Green served near the front during the final push of the war and was part of a group regularly exposed to large artillery fire and aerial bombardments.
University of Maryland Professor of Surgery Dr. Arthur Shipley served at Evac #8. He wrote about his experiences after the war. Here are some of his observations about evacuation hospitals:
The Evacuation Hospitals were usually up to 10 miles from the front. They were well out of reach of the light artillery but within the range of the "heavies" and, of course, were subject to bombing. The difficult thing was to place them along the lines of communication, and at the same time far enough away from ammunition dumps and rail heads not to invite shelling or bombing. They were plainly marked with big crosses made of different colored stone laid out on clear space, so as to be easily seen from the observation planes and to show up in photographs. If there were buildings in the hospital group, red crosses were often painted on the roofs. This was most important, as wounded men in large numbers could not be moved into dugouts if the hospitals were subjected to much shelling. During the Argonne offensive, we were at the top of our strength. We had about 1000 beds for patients, 410 enlisted personnel, 65 medical officers and 75 nurses.
My grandfather also kept a diary but he wrote only short, officious entries. We do know he was involved in the Meuse-Argonne offensive but lack any details. I can only guess his feelings on Armistice Day. He told stories about his role in the war but none about the final bloody days when U.S. troopers suffered massive casualties. The Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery holds 14,246 headstones for the U.S. casualties of the final 47 days of the war.

I am writing a novel set in post-war Colorado. During my research, I learned a few things. The war set people in motion. An Iowa farm boy and a middle-class Baltimorean ended up in Europe during one of the globe's most savage moments. As the song goes: "How you gonna keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen Paree?"

All four of my grandparents moved to Denver in 1919-1920. I always wondered why. That's the theme I explore in my novel. What caused my relatives to slip the bonds of their homes and venture West? The frontier was closed, Frederick Jackson Turner said after the 1890 census revealed that the Wild West was wild no more. Maybe my grandparents didn't see a frontier but they saw something. What was that thing?

The more I read about the war, the better I understand the era and the less I understand humankind. I hope to bring some shape to the shapeless.

1 comment:

RobertP said...

MIke, when I retire you need to come to KC to visit the National WW1 Museum (and me). They had special lights shining poppies on the liberty memorial the last week. Ver impressive. Love the stories from your relatives.