I joined the Western Front Association (WFA) after reading my grandfather's World War One journal. I wanted to learn more about America's forgotten war. In the States WWI didn't make the impact that WWII did, perhaps it is because we didn't enter the war until it was near the end. For whatever the reason I knew very little about the war.
My grandfather joined the Royal Field Artillery's special reserves in 1905, soon after he graduated from school. He was called into active service when England declared war on Germany in August of 1914 and was assigned to the 40th battery, 43rd brigade. The brigade was part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) when it was deployed to France.
The story of the journal began in 2008 when I was given a box of documents that had belonged to my grandparents. Among the documents were his war journal and a letter he wrote in 1945. These two items consumed the next four years of my life. What started out as a family history project turned into a book, "The Great Promise".
The book centers on a promise my grandfather made with three chums prior to the Battle of Mons and his journal contains the answers. Through the process of writing I began to fully understand the historical value of the journal and I decided to share it with those in the WFA that would understand and appreciate its contents.
With this thought in mind, I contacted WFA Web Editor to see how to go about accomplishing such a large under taking. I explained that I had both digital images as well as transcriptions of the entire contents of the journal and in return he said that I could submit both.
This is the featured article from Stand To! No 94, the journal of The Western Front Association.
Article edited by Paul Swindell
This article contains extracts from the war diary of my grandfather, Major Swindell as he wrote them. He was a Pioneer in the 2nd Battalion, Manchester Regiment. Having joined the Colours in 1906, he served throughout the war, from being an Old Contemptible, all the way through to the Armistice. He ended the war as the battalion's Pioneer Sergeant.
The diary was written in two separate volumes - one is a Letts diary for 1915, covering the period 5 August 1914 to 31 December 1916 - published here as Part 1 - and the other is a notebook which covers the period 1 January 1916 to 3 September 1918 to be published in Stand To! 95. The diary ends two months before the Armistice. It is unknown whether he ended his diary at that point or if he started a missing third volume. The diary covers most of the major battles of the Great War - starting with the Retreat from Mons (including Le Cateau), the Marne, the Aisne, First Ypres, Second Ypres, The Somme/Ancre, Messines and the 1918 offensives.
The reader may be puzzled about my grandfather's name, Major was his forename, not his rank. According to the story my father told me, this unusual name came about due to a short-lived tradition in his family of naming the boys after army ranks. Major was the last one, as after he was born, all the women in the family got together and put a stop to it!]]>
Arthur Dease, born in 1871, was of Anglo-Irish origin and he served as a volunteer ambulance driver from January 1915 through to January 1919 and, during this time, he wrote home to his mother several times a week, duties permitting of course, telling her in some detail of his experiences and also talking about many of the current affairs of the time, both home and abroad. This was also a turbulent period in Irish history too, and Arthur often talks about the problems at home in Ireland.
In February 2012 I decided to publish these Great War letters online, on my website www.ArthursLetters.com, partly to focus my attention on the content and to get them into some meaningful order, but also to let others read about Arthur's exploits and his views on the events of the time.
In my opinion, these primary source documents are an exceptional opportunity to read what a person was actually feeling and going through at the time they were written, and one can get a good feel for Arthur's mood. Many of the letters were written as and when and where he could write them, in between duties or when on leave, or when "relaxing" in damp basements or dugouts, etc; this is apparent as you read them. His handwriting was pretty awful at the best of times and I include here some illustrations of the original letters. I feel that I really must stress that the purists among you may find these letters just light reading, but they are a fascinating view of this period in history, written by an educated and well travelled person.]]>
The story of Sgt Paul A Smithhisler (112th Engineers, 37th Division, US Army) and his bravery in Flanders has appeared on several web sites and has been the cover story for the American Military Journal "Relevance" and, more recently, the US Army Engineer Magazine. In 2005, I met with the Sgt Smithhisler's two sons (Joe and Jack). They had traveled to Belgium and France to retrace their father's 1918 wartime exploits in Europe. They had resurrected his sketches, diary notations, stories, medals and commendations. I had the opportunity to travel with Joe, as I identified the terrain, and he made a photographic record of the sites where his father had made a dozen or so sketches. This Photo Journal depicts the utter destruction of much of Flanders, Belgium in 1918 and the rebuilt villages, as they stand, nearly 100 years later.
About The Author
Dr J P Deweer is a noted Belgium author, medical doctor, Great War historian, and authority on the Ypres-Lys battles of 1918. A Lt Colonel (retired) in the Belgium army, he was active in the Belgium resistance movement during WW2. His father served in the Belgium army during the First World War. He was born, raised and lives in Oudenaarde on the Scheldt river. In 1988 he first published his research in De Slag Aan De Schelde - 1918. European military historians have quoted his extensive research on these battles. This research had never been translated from the original Flemish into English, and little is known of his research generally in the western hemisphere. Oudenaarde City Officials had requested that Dr Deweer publish a sequel to his book, which now includes his recent findings on the first bridges across their Scheldt River immediately before the end of the Great War. In Flemish this sequel is titled: "Sergeant Paul A Smithhisler: an American Hero of the First World War".
Doctor Deweer has authorized this abridged first original English translation. His research now highlights the 37th Division's "doughboys" and their battles to establish bridgeheads across the Scheldt (Escaut) river. With permission from the Smithhisler family, he has included the battlefield sketches and diary entries of Sgt Paul A Smithhisler. Dr Deweer has been able to identify the site locations of these 1918 Belgium sketches. This Photo Journal coordinates the 2005 photographs with its appropriate First World War sketch.
37th Division in Flanders, Belgium
On 14 October 1918, Marshall Foch sent a telegram to the headquarters American First Army: "Extremely Urgent - For General Pershing: The Belgian, French and British troops have made a considerable advance. We should take advantage of this situation and transfer more troops to the front. Under these present circumstances I wish to request two American Divisions, who are battle worthy and experienced in offensive attacks, to be transferred to this area." The 37th and 91st Divisions would be designated for this last offensive on the River Scheldt between 31 October and the Armistice on 11 November 1918.
For the first time these young Americans saw the reality and horror of destruction to the town of Ypres which, together with Verdun, were the sites of two of the more important strategic battles during the War [Editor's note: there were four battles for Ypres, all told]. Although hardened by the previous French battles at Avocourt and Montfaucon in September 1918, the Americam troops were still astonished and devastated by what they saw along the sector; especially the plain of the Ijzer (Yser), which had been changed to a lunar surface. Because of this complete destruction it was extremely difficult for supplies to follow.
They wrote home: "Also the small villages further along are in complete ruin. Windows of houses that partially stand have been broken by the thunder of artillery. The civilians live in miserable circumstances and are fighting starvation. Many children are pushing their way towards the field kitchens hoping to receive something to eat. During the night, rats and lice are our worst enemies as we try to catch some sleep. We are forced to sleep with all our clothes, gloves and helmet on."
The 37th Division arrived by train at Ypres, located within the Army Group of Flanders, on 20 October 1918 and was immediately confronted with the devastation and floods in this sector. It was in the neighboring town of Vlamertinghe, Belgium where Sgt Smithhisler made his first (21 October 1918) sketches. Also shown here is his diary notation on the reverse of the original along with a comparative 2005 photograph of the rebuilt church.]]>
(Used with kind permission)