World War I Packs

World War I Packs

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In a Mail Call video, R. Ermey reveals that on top of all the other hardships WWI soldiers had to endure, their backpacks proved to be another annoyance. Men from the Great War Historical Society strapped on the WWI packs and completed some drills; by the end, they definitely felt the WWI soldiers pain. The bottom section of the backpack, known as the diaper, was detachable and carried the soldiers blanket, shelter half, and shelter half pole and pins. On the belt youd find ammo, a first aid kit, a canteen cover, and a canteen and cup. Inside the flaps were a baking tin, a condiment can, and boxes of bread rations. Also inside the flaps were a towel, soap dish, shaving kit, handkerchief, foot powder, and extra socks. Attached to the outside were the bayonet, shovel, trenching tool, and a mess kit. The entire weight of the pack lies entirely on the soldiers shoulders, making it very uncomfortable. If a soldier wanted to get anything out of his pack, he would have to stop, unravel everything, get what he needs, and then pack everything back up. Due to the placement of the bayonet, most soldiers would have to have a buddy put it back for them.

What the First World War Can Teach Us about Misjudging Tech and Social Change

Global threats like the coronavirus pandemic are transforming the world today. An existential truth has emerged: technological advances are outstripping political capacity and imagination. This is not a new story


In 2020, unfamiliar technological and social conditions teeter upon ossified political structures in a moment eerily similar to the early years of the 20th century.

In the 19th century, railroads reshaped national economies, industries, and cultures — with worldwide consequences. In Europe, rapid technological changes were embraced as indicators of progress and celebrated in tribute to the greater glory of the states themselves.

Today, world leaders are hard pressed to comprehend the complex networks of social and technological forces that undergird the foundations of modern life. The misalignment between our ability to govern and the breakneck pace of social and technological change is growing at an alarming rate.

The increased complexity and interconnectedness around dual-use technologies — those that can be used for both socially beneficial and military purposes — increase the risk of inadvertent military confrontation. The lights are off and the barriers to entry are not forbiddingly high.

1920/2020 Is it déjà vu all over again? (Credit: Pierre-Paul Pariseau)

On an unremarkable day in January just over one hundred years ago, the age of empire in Europe came to an end. The colossal states that ruled over vast, multiethnic territories with supreme self-confidence suddenly ceased to exist. Empire’s end arrived with a bang, not a whimper, to be sure. Though the Treaty of Versailles that came into effect in early 1920 redrew the map of Europe, the great monarchs sealed their own fate when they ambled unwittingly into the fires of the Great War. Their demise demonstrates the cost of miscalculation when the pace and scale of technological and social change outstrip political capacity and imagination. Once begun, the war proceeded according to a brutal logic of bloody and unexpected escalation, culminating in the destruction of the very states that had presided over the rise of modern Europe. As we reflect upon the war a century later, we may be surprised to find that the similarities between our time and that not-so-distant past are more troubling than the differences.

Over the course of the 19th century, scientific and technological progress advanced at such a pace that the governing bodies could scarcely grasp the enormity of the transformation of the very ground beneath their feet. They were lulled to complacence by their own seeming immutability. Changes within their realms were embraced as indications of progress and celebrated in tribute to the greater glory of the states themselves. Writing of the replacement of gas streetlamps with electric lighting, the novel rapidity of horseless carriages, and the newfound ability to soar aloft like Icarus, the Viennese writer Stefan Zweig recounts how “faith in an uninterrupted and irresistible ‘progress’ truly had the force of a religion for that generation. One began to believe more in this ‘progress’ than in the Bible, and its gospel appeared ultimate because of the daily new wonders of science and technology.”

Over the course of the 19th century, scientific and technological progress advanced at such a pace that the governing bodies could scarcely grasp the enormity of the transformation of the very ground beneath their feet. They were lulled to complacence by their own seeming immutability.

Technological progress in turn-of-the-century Europe may strike modern readers as quaint and innocuous. Today, after all, leading firms compete to achieve quantum supremacy in computing, political leaders darkly intone that mastery of artificial intelligence will lead to global domination, and Silicon Valley billionaires look to the stars — investing immense capital in the production of satellites and spaceships to mine the mineral wealth of asteroids.

Just as in Zweig’s Vienna, however, today’s world leaders are hard-pressed to comprehend the complex networks of social and technological forces that undergird the foundations of modern life. High up over our heads, along with the fixed satellite relays that provide instant face-to-face communication with anyone, anywhere, in real time, are concealed satellites that states rely upon to receive and transmit critical information to submarines, perform surveillance and reconnaissance, and provide early-warning monitoring for missile launches. Satellites are an example of a “dual-use” technology: that is, a technology that can be used for both socially beneficial and military purposes. In this sense, they are not dissimilar from railroads in the 19th century.

Safe at Home Sitting on the front stoop of his house, an American soldier models his gas mask, ca. 1919. First used in World War I by the Germans at the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915, chlorine gas proved an effective means of targeting enemy trenches from afar. Following the deadly Ypres attack, the London Daily Mail condemned the “cold-blooded deployment of every device of modern science,” thundering, “Devilry, Thy Name Is Germany!” Within months, Britain would attack German trenches with gas at the Battle of Loos. (Credit: Kirn Vintage Stock/Corbis via Getty Images)

Railroads spiderwebbed across the European continent in the 1800s, and in the process reshaped national economies, industries, and cultures. Their very ubiquity became a key component of German military planning — strategic surprise leading to quick victory —in the years leading up to World War I. By mobilizing and rapidly deploying thousands of troops via the railroad, imperial German strategists believed that they could deliver a knockout blow to France before turning to engage the Russian Empire on their eastern flank. Today, some scholars suggest that an overreliance on satellite and communications technology presents a similar temptation for military planners: the alluring appeal of the first strike, of a sudden and overwhelming surprise attack. Consider, for example, the confusion that would result from an unexpected strike that disabled the early warning military satellites used to detect the launch of nuclear missiles.

If history is any guide, we should take warning. When the German surprise attack on France was rebuffed on the banks of the Marne River, the deployment of modern machine guns — whose use was largely unaccounted for in 19th-century German strategy — necessitated the digging of trenches to protect troops from devastating attack. Frustration with the intransigence of trench warfare led generals to seek out advantages by modern means. Chlorine gas, newly synthesized and manufactured thanks to breakthroughs in the chemical sciences, was found to be an effective means of targeting enemy trenches from afar. Suddenly, what was to have been a very quick engagement became an epochal rupture.

James Acton, codirector of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, defines the potential risk of military confrontation spilling over into nuclear escalation derived from the increased complexity and interconnectedness around dual-use technologies as a problem of entanglement. Acton writes:

In a conventional conflict, if U.S. defenses were effective in intercepting Russian non-nuclear missiles fired against targets in Europe, Russia might attack U.S. early-warning satellites to blunt these defenses.

However, because such an attack would also degrade the United States’ ability to detect incoming nuclear strikes, Washington could interpret it as the prelude to a Russian nuclear attack — potentially resulting in escalation.

What differentiates risk today from that of a century ago is that entanglement may be inadvertent. The Imperial German Army of 1914 intended to utilize the relatively modern technology of railroads to launch a surprise attack. The attack failed due to miscalculation, resulting in a grim and unforeseen sequence of cascading escalations culminating in the death of 40 million people and the demise of the imperial grandeur that had occupied the European imagination for centuries. Today, such a series of events could be set in motion without the first shot being knowingly fired.

Go Deeper: “Can a New Generation of Experts Restore Nuclear Security?”

That is because, unlike railroads and train cars, there is more to satellites than meets the eye. Satellites themselves are a physical aspect of a novel digital realm made up of a myriad of well-nigh impossible to trace interrelations, connections, and dependencies. While a satellite orbiting many thousands of feet above our heads can be physically disabled, for instance by a missile or a spacecraft (a scenario some strategists worry about), it can also be hacked into remotely, monitored, disabled, or taken over by the same keyboard that can be used to attack a kitchen toaster, an electric car, a city power grid, or a polling booth. Furthermore, satellites invariably depend upon networks of other systems to receive and process the signals they send, and those systems bring with them their own risks and vulnerabilities. In other words, satellites, like office computers, airplanes, elevators, and hospital ventilators, are only as secure as the systems they depend upon. If a determined nonstate group targeted a power supply or a telecommunications network, they could unintentionally — or intentionally — blind an early-warning satellite and thereby precipitate a nuclear crisis between states.

It gets worse. Not only are cyberweapons invisible to the naked eye, but their very efficacy lies in their concealment: once an adversary becomes aware of the existence of a cyberweapon, a suitable defense can be quickly engineered and the weapon effectively neutralized. Unlike previous paradigms of warfare, the absolute emphasis on protecting the secrecy of cyber operations makes it extraordinarily difficult for competing states to develop confidence-building measures or safeguards to protect against inadvertent escalation.

In cyberwar as it is currently waged, there can be neither trust nor veracity. Rules of the road are figured out on the fly, in combat, in the dark.

Nuclear arms control, for example, depends upon the willing disclosure of military assets in order to function effectively, enhancing mutual understanding of each party’s capabilities and intentions. The Open Skies Treaty, currently in jeopardy of falling victim to mistrust, allows states to conduct regular surveillance flights over adversarial territory to observe troop movements and weapons arsenals for themselves. It was precisely this ability to inspect the activity of treaty partners that ushered in an age of arms control and cautious good will, informed by Ronald Reagan’s pithy formula: “Trust, but verify.”

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In cyberwar as it is currently waged, there can be neither trust nor veracity. Rules of the road are figured out on the fly, in combat, in the dark. To operate in this mercurial arena, the United States has adopted a policy of “persistent engagement.” Achieve and Maintain Cyberspace Superiority describes cyberspace as a “fluid environment of constant contact and shifting terrain,” wherein the “constant innovation of disruptive technologies offers all actors new opportunities for exploitation.” This April 2018 “roadmap” for U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) states that “the United States must increase resiliency, defend forward as close as possible to the origin of adversary activity, and persistently contest malicious cyberspace actors to generate continuous tactical, operational, and strategic advantage.”

Picture a cat’s cradle strung with thermonuclear trip wires and threaded between the fingers of a number of rivals, each of whom actively seeks to undermine and attack the others. The lights are off and the barriers to entry are not forbiddingly high. Any party with sufficient programming expertise and computing capacity can enter the arena and pick up a thread. Apart from its piquancy, the image suggests a deeper level of uncertainty below the technical. Beyond the tangle of tripwires, the complexity and risk of the predicament is compounded by the variety of psychologies at play. Quite apart from understanding which string could lead to which effect, there is a lack of understanding of how individual players might interpret any specific action.

Carnegie Voices: "We Still Live with the Risk of Nuclear War"

In a 2016 report that sought to find common ground between the United States and Russia in regards to cybersecurity, Harvard’s Working Group on the Future of U.S.-Russia Relations began by noting that the two rivals do not even use the same terminology to describe the threat: “Russia emphasizes ‘international information security,’ whereas the United States believes that cybercrime, cyberespionage, and cyberterrorism are the main threats in this domain and so prefers the term ‘cybersecurity’ and a focus on the protection of computer networks and resources.” The prescient report went on to highlight a troubling concern: rising consternation in the Kremlin that its dependence on a global system of interconnected computer networks administered from outside its borders was a threat to its sovereignty, and that the country had begun to seek methods to protect itself, including decoupling from the Internet altogether. Four years later, just such a decoupling appears to be coming to pass.

While some challenges can be addressed with technocratic solutions, others are rooted in pathologies more nebulous and difficult to parse. According to the late Cambridge historian C. A. Bayly, it is the latter that powers the centrifuge of history. While discussing the “motors of change” in the 19th and 20th centuries, Bayly identified war as a principal driver, but argued that as a frame of analysis, its purchase was limited. Where, after all, does war come from? Surveying the 20th century, he observed that while warfare both fueled and was fueled by the demand for economic growth and expansion, the direction of conflict itself was provided by national and extranational identities. “Cecil Rhodes’s career in southern Africa, or the project of building the Berlin–Baghdad or Trans-Siberian railways, were ultimately directed by states or political actors attempting to ensure [not only] their wealth, but also their identity.” In the thaw of the Cold War, the twin energies of globalization and the rise of the Internet compressed time and space, bringing the pressures of wealth acquisition and identity to a head as never before. Today, the example par excellence of Bayly’s insight may be found in the global struggle over Huawei, the Chinese government–backed telecommunications company.

Inside Huawei, China's Tech Giant A thermal engineer performs a heat test in the research and development area of Huawei’s Bantian campus, Shenzhen, China, as captured in a photo-essay published in U.S. News & World Report (April 12, 2019). “While commercially successful and a dominant player in 5G, or fifth-generation networking technology,” U.S. News writes, “Huawei has faced political headwinds and allegations that its equipment includes so-called backdoors that the U.S. government perceives as a national security threat.” (Credit: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

The determination with which the United States has sought to deter its allies from purchasing Huawei’s communications infrastructure speaks to its recognition that the contours of commerce and social engagement in the 21st century will be determined by the computer code that routes them. In the succinct formulation of Harvard’s Lawrence Lessig, “code is law.”* In the coming decades, as more and more physical commodities and social processes come online, that code and network will become a broadening tributary channeling an ever-increasing supply of human activity: shoes, refrigerators, thermostats, but also Internet browsing and chat functions, archival access, and — not least — telemedicine, logistics planning, taxation, energy, and voting. To handle the sheer increase in web traffic volume resulting from such a boom, we will require network and communication services with greatly increased capacity. As of 2020, due to underinvestment, there is no credible Western alternative to Huawei, whose rise and adoption across broad swaths of Asia and Africa, and now Europe, has been subsidized as a national priority project of the People’s Republic of China.

As the enormous transformations taking place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries disrupted social norms and generated novel political demands, declining landowning and military elites were unable to adapt to the changing circumstances. Dismayed by an emerging world in which their stature was not guaranteed, the ancien régime — ranging from German junkers and Russian nobles to British and French aristocrats — sought in vain to manage popular social movements with nationalistic rhetoric and, ultimately, conscription. We should take care to heed the lack of political imagination to conceive of or keep up with the massive changes underway. The misalignment between our ability to govern and the breakneck pace of social and technological change grows at an alarming rate. We agitate about immigration, as if a wall could keep out a pandemic. We lavish ever greater fortunes upon our militaries, while the U.S. military is one of the single greatest carbon emitters on this planet. We undermine and revoke stabilizing international treaties, as reality dissolves into quanta before our eyes. Entanglements multiply by the inexorable progress of technological and scientific innovation. Machine learning, lethal autonomous drone swarms, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing crowd a dark horizon. A besieged climate will continue to spark conflagrations and catalyze social, economic, and political unrest. Unfamiliar technological and social conditions teeter upon ossified political structures in a moment eerily similar to the early years of the 20th century. The time has come to pinch ourselves and ask if we are dreaming. Were a misstep to wake us, we might long for the days of horseless carriages, flying machines, and the “dim street lights of former times.”

*For the website Above the Law (August 12, 2019), Olga V. Mack provided some context for this famous dictum: “[W]hen Lessig first used the phrase, he didn’t have in mind its contemporary usage. Lessig doesn’t argue that if software code permits an action, it is necessarily allowed. And he definitely doesn’t argue that software will replace law.” Rather, Mack explains, “when he wrote that ‘code is law,’ Lessig was arguing that the Internet should incorporate constitutional principles. Lessig astutely observed early on that the software that underlies the very architecture and infrastructure of the Internet governs it as a whole. But who decides what the rules of code are? Who are the architects behind these code-based structures? There is an obvious and troublesome lack of transparency.”

Eugene Scherbakov is a research associate with the Corporation’s International Peace and Security program.

TOP Published in Germany, probably in 1915, this satirical map captures Europe in the early days of World War I, with each country painted in the broadest of caricatures. For example, England is represented as a military officer astride an overburdened bulldog, battleships in tow. The Russian bear, surrounded by scenes of civil strife, attacks a lion and double-headed eagle standing in for Austria. France is a soldier fleeing bullets coming from the fiercely striding German mountain climber. Meanwhile, Spain dozes, Portugal watches for signs of war, and Italy reclines, semi-nude. The laughter would soon stop. (Credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

History of World War I

World War I (WWI or WW1), also known as the First World War, or the Great War, was a global war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918. More than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, were mobilised in one of the largest wars in history.[5][6] Over 9 million combatants and 7 million civilians died as a result of the war (including the victims of a number of genocides), a casualty rate exacerbated by the belligerents' technological and industrial sophistication, and the tactical stalemate caused by trench warfare, a grueling form of warfare in which the defender held the advantage. It was one of the deadliest conflicts in history, and paved the way for major political changes, including revolutions in many of the nations involved.[7]

The war drew in all the world’s economic great powers,[8] assembled in two opposing alliances: the Allies (based on the Triple Entente of the United Kingdom/British Empire, France and the Russian Empire) and the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary. Although Italy had also been a member of the Triple Alliance alongside Germany and Austria-Hungary, it did not join the Central Powers, as Austria-Hungary had taken the offensive against the terms of the alliance.[9] These alliances were reorganised and expanded as more nations entered the war: Italy, Japan and the United States joined the Allies, while the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria joined the Central Powers.


1 Renate Stauf, Anette Simonis, and Jörg Paulus, Der Liebesbrief. Schriftkultur und Medienwechsel vom 18. Jahrhundert bis zur Gegenwart (Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 2008) 2, 6

2 Martyn Lyons, "Love Letters and Writing Practices: On Écritures Intimes in the Nineteenth Century," Journal of Family History 24, No. 2 (April 1999): 232-39, here 232, 233.

3 Reinhard M. G. Nikisch, Brief (Stuttgart: Metzler Verlag, 1991) 43, 15.

4 Bettina Marxer, "Liebesbriefe, und was nun einmal so genannt wird". Korrespondenzen zwischen Arthur Schnitzler, Olga Waissnix und Marie Reinhard: Eine literatur- und kulturwissenschaftliche Lektüre (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2001), 2.

5 From the 44 remaining perserved letters of Franz Kundera, dated from 22 March 1917 to 15 December 1917, almost all are in pencil and composed on a four-sided sheet of paper. They are today archived as NL 75/I in the "Sammlung Frauennachlässe" (Collection of Women´s Personal Papers) at the Department of History at the University of Vienna cf.

6 Evy L. Wyss, "From the Bridal letter to Online Flirting. Changes in Text Type from the Nineteenth Century to the Internet Era," Journal of Historical Pragmatics 9, no. 2 (2008): 225-254, hier 232.

7 These are posed questions from funded projects of the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) "(Über) Liebe schreiben? Historische Analysen zum Verhandeln von Geschlechterbeziehungen und -positionen in Paarkorrespondenzen des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts", managed by Ingrid Bauer und Christa Hämmerle, from which the available sources of analyzed letters originate.

8 In the German Empire alone there were up to 28,7 billion pieces of mail in circulation in World War I, in France there was apparently 10 billion, this means 4 million daily.

9 For example in France Martha Hanna pointed out in "A Republic of Letters: The Epistolary Tradition in France During World War I," American Historical Review 108 (December 2003): 1338-61, esp. 1343-48.

10 For Italy Marco Mondini, "Papierhelden. Briefe von der Front während des Ersten Weltkrieges in Italien und die Schaffung eines männlich-kriegerischen Bildes," in Schreiben im Krieg – Schreiben vom Krieg. Feldpost im Zeitalter der Weltkriege, Veit Didczuneit, Jens Ebert, and Thomas Jander, eds. (Essen: Klartext Verlagsgesellschaft, 2011), 185-92.

11 Cf. for example Wyss, "From the Bridal Letter".

12 Facsimile of the marriage certificate, issued by Pfarre Kritzendorf, district Tulln, marriage register Tom. L. Fol 135, 29 September 1919, kindly forwarded by Roman Stani-Fertl.

13 Manfried Rauchensteiner, Der Erste Weltkrieg und das Ende der Habsburgermonarchie 1914-1918 (Wien: Böhlau, 2013), 836.

14 Rauchensteiner, Der Erste Weltkrieg, 849.

15 A beast-like creature, common folklore in Alpine countries, who comes to punish children during Christmas.

16 Martin Humburg, Das Gesicht des Krieges. Feldpostbriefe von Wehrmachtsoldaten aus der Sowjetunion 1941-1944 (Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1998), 62.

17 Cécile Dauphin, Pézerat Pierrette, and Danièle Poublan (éds.), Ces Bonnes Lettres. Une correspondance familiale au XIXe siècle (Paris: Albin Michel, 1995), developed from Philippe Lejeunes concept of the "autobiographic pact".

Picturing World War I: America's First Official War Artists, 1918-1919

The United States entered the First World War when it declared war on Germany on 6 April 1917. The government promptly established a Committee on Public Information to coordinate propaganda for the war effort. The committee’s Division of Pictorial Publicity soon began planning to provide the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) with official artists. This was an unprecedented move, inspired by the official war art programs of Britain and France. Never before the First World War had any government sponsored artists to record a war in progress, although newspaper and magazine artists had begun doing so by the mid-1800s. The Division selected eight American artists, all of them experienced illustrators. The US Army commissioned them as captains and assigned them to record the wide-ranging activities of the AEF for posterity, as well as to help shape popular understanding of the war at home.

By spring 1918 the artists were in France, busy at work. Both the American and French high commands gave the artists carte blanche to travel where they would in the war zone and to draw whatever they saw. They took full advantage of their freedom to create images of men, machines, and landscapes from the ports of debarkation to the front lines. Ultimately they produced more than 700 sketches, drawings, and paintings. Their work fell into four broad categories: warscapes, which depicted devastated landscapes and damaged buildings, usually with little or no human presence soldier life and activities, both at work and at rest behind the lines military technology and engineering, with particular attention to such novelties as tanks, planes, and motor vehicles, as well as the AEF’s logistical underpinnings and combat.

The War Department transferred approximately 500 of the artists’ works to the Smithsonian Institution immediately after the war. They were on display in the National Museum throughout the 1920s, along with a host of other war relics. But since then, most of the art has never left storage. The Division of Armed Forces History in the National Museum of American History now holds this collection of official AEF art from World War I. This object group, featuring high-resolution digitized images of the artwork, makes the entire collection available to the public for the first time since it was taken off exhibition in the late 1920’s and allows visitors to see for themselves what World War I was like for the people who experienced it and the artists charged with drawing it.

World War II was fought in the form of physical battles as well as psychological warfare. The surviving artifacts from the front lines of these struggles provide a window onto how World War II was waged. These lesson plans are based on History Detectives episodes that examine how several objects played a key role in World War II, particularly the role of Japan and the Japanese in the war. They offer students opportunities to research and write about Japanese internment camps, the air war, and propaganda.

Students watch an excerpt from the Japanese Carved Cane investigation in which they learn about Japanese internment camps in the United States during World War II. They then create newspapers depicting life in the camps and in typical American communities at the time.

Students learn about fighter planes used during World War II through the Drone Propeller investigation, then debate whether or not this type of technology should be used in military warfare.

Students view an excerpt from the World War II Leaflets investigation in which they learn about propaganda leaflets distributed in Japan by the United States during World War II. They then analyze period propaganda posters.

Related Reproducibles:

McRel Standards

These lessons are aligned to the McRel National Standards. They can also be aligned to the National Standards for History.

  • Lesson Plans
    • Abraham Lincoln: Man versus Legend
    • African American History: Activity Pack
    • African American History: Climbing the Wall
    • African American History: Honored as Heroes
    • African American History: Lunch Counter Closed
    • Baker's Gold
    • Cardboard History
    • Civil War: Activity Pack
    • Civil War: Before the War
    • Civil War: Blacks on the Battlefield
    • Civil War: Face Jug
    • Crack the Case: History's Toughest Mysteries
    • Cromwell Dixon
    • Evaluating Conflicting Evidence: Sultana
    • Family History: Activity Pack
    • Family History: On Your Honor
    • Family History: Those with Lofty Ideals
    • Family History: Treasure Troves
    • Home Sweet Home
    • Inventions
    • Myth of the West: Activity Pack
    • Myth of the West: Kit Carson to the Rescue
    • Myth of the West: Lonely But Free I’ll Be Found
    • Myth of the West: The Battle of the Washita
    • Primary Sources
    • The Sixties: Activity Pack
    • The Sixties: Dylan Plugs in and Sells Out
    • The Sixties: Hitsville USA
    • The Sixties: Notes from the Ho Chi Minh Trail
    • Think Like a Historian: A Viewing Guide
    • Using Primary Sources: Activity Pack
    • Using Primary Sources: Nazi Spy Ring Busted
    • Using Primary Sources: The Rogue's Gallery
    • Using Primary Sources: Wide Open Town
    • Women's History: Activity Pack
    • Women's History: Clara Barton
    • Women's History: Glass Windows & Glass Ceilings
    • Women's History: Parading Through History
    • WWII: Activity Pack
    • WWII: Detained
    • WWII: The Art of Persuasion
    • WWII: Up in the Air
    • 1000 Words
    • Before We Travel, We Research
    • Cemetery Information
    • Classification
    • Conceptualizing An Experiment
    • Document This
    • Going Back In Time
    • Interviewing A Parent
    • Observing
    • Online Resources
    • Predicting/Making a Hypothesis
    • Researching An Historical Site
    • Scavenger Hunt
    • Searching The Attic
    • Taking A Field Trip
    • Testing The Hypothesis
    • Who Knows Best
    • Writing An Historical Poem
    • Written In Stone

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    The delicate "war laces" of World War I

    "War" and "lace" are not often part of the same sentence. However, laces made in Belgium during World War I are an exception. About 50 of these form an important part of the lace holdings of the Division of Home and Community Life's Textile Collection. While they aren't currently on display, you can explore them in a new online object group.

    But why are Belgian-made laces in the collection of the National Museum of American History? There are several connections. At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Herbert Hoover, who later became the 31st president of the United States, was a wealthy mining engineer living in London. After helping thousands of Americans who found themselves stranded and penniless in Europe, he was asked to set up the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB). The main goal was to help feed the starving Belgians. When the German army invaded Belgium (a neutral country) in August 1914 in preparation to invade France, the British navy blockaded Belgium's harbors in order to cut off German supply lines. However, Belgium depended on imports for 80% of their food supply, and with the blockade in place it could not import any food for its citizens. Hoover was able to negotiate with the British and Germans to let food be delivered to the Belgian people.

    Besides the all-important food shipments, Britain and Germany reached an agreement allowing the importation of thread and the exportation of lace made with the thread. This effort helped thousands of Belgian lace makers earn money for food for their families. The laces were ordered, inspected, and sold through the London office of the CRB.

    Lou Henry Hoover was very active with her husband in helping with this effort. Mrs. Hoover utilized her skills as an organizer to establish a hospital in London, which was supported and staffed by American volunteers, and also organized a knitting factory in London. She also showed a keen interest in preserving the Belgian lace industry, which had been well established and world famous since the sixteenth century. She saw an opportunity to help the Belgian people through the lace making skills of the many Belgian lace makers.

    Exploring the laces, certain types emerge.

    In addition to Lou Henry Hoover, Americans heavily involved in helping the Belgian lace makers included Mrs. Brand Whitlock (née Ella Brainerd), wife of the American envoy and later ambassador to Belgium. The allied nations table cover below expresses gratitude from the Belgian lace makers toward Mrs. Whitlock. The Vicomtesse de Beughem (née Irene or Irone Hare), an American married to a Belgian nobleman and living in Belgium, was part of the Lace Committee, specifically working with the lace makers under the CRB. The vicomtesse donated many of the laces in this collection, and possibly commissioned examples like this panel for her mother, Augusta Virginia Hancock Hare Mitchell.

    Now that the War Laces are viewable online, we continue to learn interesting things about them.

    The design of the above lace border was specifically made to appeal to Dutch women for their bonnets. A single repetition of the pattern measures half an "el," the old length for a bonnet. As it was wartime, people saved on luxuries so instead of using an el, approximately 69 cm (depending on the area), some only bought half an el. When the budget allowed it, they could use two pattern repeats of the lace to decorate the bonnets. The way the motif is finished, it was easily inserted into the linen of the bonnet.

    Karen Thompson is a Volunteer in the Division of Home and Community Life's Textile Collection. To learn more about Belgian lace makers in World War I, she recommends Charlotte Kellogg's Bobbins of Belgium, Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1920. She also recommends our blog post about embroideries made by women in France during the war.

    World War I: Introduction

    The State of Delaware maintains an extensive collection of World War I era objects under the stewardship of the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs . The World War I collection consists of military gear, uniforms, medals, Red Cross related items including attire, personal letters, postcards, books, photographs, advertisements and sound recordings.

    The collection also includes 27 World War I propaganda posters that were artfully designed to encourage Americans to support and participate in the Great War. The vibrant colors and details utilized on each poster were meant to convey the American patriotic spirit. Because the posters are fragile and light sensitive, they require specialized handling and storage to ensure the best museum standard of care. This fragility limits visitors and researchers from being able to view these unframed works of art.

    To allow a larger audience to see and to enjoy the World War I posters in the state’s collections, the concept of this online exhibit, Drawing America to Victory: The Persuasive Power of the Arts in World War I , was developed. This online exhibit was not intended to document the entire history of the Great War. Rather, it highlights the war efforts in the United States and the persuasive power of the propaganda posters that indeed served to energize Americans.

    Drawing America to Victory ‘s themes are derived from the topics presented through the graphics and wording on the propaganda posters. The online exhibit also includes selected World War I era objects from the State’s collection as a means of emphasizing the social and economic conditions at the time of the Great War.

    All objects viewed in this online exhibit, unless otherwise noted, are from the collections of the State of Delaware, administered by the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs.

    How Three Doughboys Experienced the Last Days of World War I

    Sgt. Harold J. Higginbottom. 2nd Lt. Thomas Jabine. Brigadier General Amos A. Fries. When these three U.S. servicemen heard the news about the armistice ending the First World War, they were in three very different circumstances. Their stories, told below in an excerpt from Theo Emery’s Hellfire Boys: The Birth of the U.S. Chemical Warfare Service and the Race for the World’s Deadliest Weapons, offer a window into how the war was still running hot until its very last hours. While Emery’s book details the rapid research and development of chemical weapons in the U.S. during the war and the young men in the First Gas Regiment, it also connects readers to the seemingly abstract lives of 100 years ago.

    Daylight was fading on November 8 as Harold “Higgie” Higginbottom and his platoon started through the woods in the Argonne. Branches slapped their faces as they pushed through the undergrowth. Their packs were heavy, and it began to rain. There was no path, no road, just a compass guiding them in the dark. Whispers about an armistice had reached all the way to the front. “There was a rumor around today that peace had been declared,” Higgie wrote in his journal. If there was any truth to it, he had yet to see it. Rumors of peace or no, Company B still had a show to carry out. Its next attack was some 15 miles to the north, in an exposed spot across the Meuse River from where the Germans had withdrawn. The trucks had brought them partway, but shells were falling on the road, so the men had to get out of the open and hike undercover.

    They waded across brooks and swamps and slithered down hills, cursing as they went. Some of the men kept asking the new lieutenant in charge where they were going. One man fell down twice and had trouble getting back up the other men had to drag him to his feet. They found a road the mud was knee deep. Arching German flares seemed to be directly overhead, and even though the men knew that the Meuse River lay between the armies, they wondered if they had somehow blundered into enemy territory. Water soaked through Higgie’s boots and socks. When they finally stopped for the night, the undergrowth was so dense it was impossible to camp, so Higgie just rolled himself up in his tent as best he could and huddled on the hillside.

    Hellfire Boys: The Birth of the U.S. Chemical Warfare Service and the Race for the World’s Deadliest Weapons

    As gas attacks began to mark the heaviest and most devastating battles, these brave and brilliant men were on the front lines, racing against the clock-and the Germans-to protect, develop, and unleash the latest weapons of mass destruction.

    Higgie awoke the next morning in a pool of water. He jumped to his feet, cursing. Mud was everywhere, but at least in daylight they could see their positions and where they were going. He carried bombs up to the advance position, returned for coffee, then made another carry, sliding in the mud. More of the company joined them in carrying mortars up to the front. Higgie had begun to feel better—the hike had warmed him up, and he had found a swell place to camp that night, a spot nestled among trees felled by the Germans. Everyone was cold and wet and caked in mud, but at least Higgie had found a dry spot. When he went to bed, the air was so cold that he and another man kept warm by hugging each other all night.

    When the frigid morning of November 10 arrived, some of the men lit pieces of paper and tucked them into their frozen boots to thaw them out. Higgie made hot coffee and spread his blankets out to dry. Late that night, the 177th Brigade was going to ford the Meuse, and Higgie’s company was to fire a smoke screen to draw fire away from the advancing infantry.

    Elsewhere, the Hellfire Regiment had other shows. At 4:00 p.m., Company A shot phosgene at a machine-gun position, forcing the Germans to flee. That night, Company D fired thermite shells over German machine-gun positions about six miles north of Higgie and put up a smoke screen that allowed the Fourth Infantry to cross the Meuse. Higgie rolled himself up in blankets to sleep before the show late that night. But his show was canceled, the infantry forded the river without the smoke screen, and Higgie couldn’t have been happier. He swaddled himself back up in his blanket and went back to bed.

    Higgie was dead asleep when a private named Charles Stemmerman shook him awake at 4:00 a.m. on November 11. Shells were falling again, and he wanted Higgie to take cover deeper in the forest. Their lieutenant and sergeant had already retreated into the woods. Higgie shrugged off the warning. If the shells got closer, he would move, he told the private. Then he turned over and went back to sleep.

    He awoke again around 8:00 a.m. The early morning shell barrage had ended. In the light of morning, an impenetrable fog blanketed the forest, so dense that he couldn’t see more than ten feet around him. He got up to make breakfast and prepared for the morning show, a mortar attack with thermite.

    Then the lieutenant appeared through the mist with the best news Higgie had heard in a long time. All guns would stop firing at 11 o’clock. The Germans had agreed to the Armistice terms. The war had ended. Higgie thought in disbelief that maybe the lieutenant was joking. It seemed too good to be true. He rolled up his pack and retreated deeper into the woods, just to be on the safe side. They had gone through so much, had seen so many things that he would have thought impossible, that he wasn’t going to take any chances now.

    To the southeast, Tom Jabine’s old Company C was preparing a thermite attack on a German battalion at Remoiville. Zero hour was 10:30 a.m. With 15 minutes to go, the men saw movement across the line. The company watched warily as 100 German soldiers stood up in plain view. As they got to their feet, they thrust their hands into their pockets—a gesture of surrender. An officer clambered up out of the German trench. The Americans watched as he crossed no-man’s-land. The armistice had been signed, the German officer said, and asked that the attack be canceled. Suspecting a trap, the Americans suspended the operation but held their positions, just in case. Minutes later, word arrived from the 11th Infantry. It was true: The armistice had been signed. The war was over.

    Hundreds of miles away, the sound of whistles and church bells reached Tom Jabine as he lay in his hospital bed in the base in Nantes, where he had arrived a few days earlier. For days after a mustard shell detonated in the doorway of his dugout in October, he had lain in a hospital bed in Langres, inflamed eyes swollen shut, throat and lungs burning. After a time, the bandages had come off, and he could finally see again. He still couldn’t read, but even if he could, letters from home had not followed him to the field hospital. The army had not yet sent official word about his injuries, but after his letters home abruptly stopped, his family back in Yonkers must have feared the worst.

    In early November, the army transferred him to the base hospital in Nantes. Not a single letter had reached Tom since his injury. He could walk, but his eyes still pained him, and it was difficult to write. More than three weeks after he was gassed, he had been finally able to pick up a pen and write a brief letter to his mother. “I got a slight dose of Fritz’s gas which sent me to the hospital. It was in the battle of the Argonne Forest near Verdun. Well I have been in the hospital ever since and getting a little better every day.”

    When the pealing from the town spires reached his ears, he reached for pen and paper to write to his mother again. “The good news has come that the armistice has been signed and the fighting stopped. We all hope this means the end of the war and I guess it does. It is hard to believe it is true, but I for one am thankful it is so. When we came over I never expected to see this day so soon if I ever saw it at all,” he wrote. Now, perhaps, he could rejoin his company and go home. “That seems too good to be true but I hope it won’t be long.”

    Amos Fries was at general headquarters in Chaumont when the news arrived. Later in the day, he drove into Paris in his Cadillac. Shells had fallen just days earlier now the city erupted in celebration. After four years of bloodshed, euphoria spilled through the city. As Fries waited in his car, a young schoolgirl wearing a blue cape and a hood jumped up on the running board. She stuck her head in the open window and blurted to Fries with glee: “La guerre est fini!” — The war is over! — and then ran on. Of all the sights that day, that was the one Fries recounted in his letter home the next day. “Somehow that sight and those sweet childish words sum up more eloquently than any oration the feeling of France since yesterday at 11 a.m.”

    As the city roiled in jubilation, a splitting headache sent Fries to bed early. The festivities continued the next day Fries celebrated with a golf game, then dinner in the evening. “Our war work is done, our reconstruction and peace work looms large ahead. When will I get home? ‘When will we get home?’ is the question on the lips of hundreds of thousands.”

    Like the turn of the tide, the movement of the American army in the Argonne stopped and reversed, and the men of the gas regiment began retreating south. Hours earlier, the land Higginbottom walked on had been a shooting gallery in a firestorm. Now silence fell over the blasted countryside. For Higgie, the stillness was disquieting after months of earthshaking detonations. He still couldn’t believe the end had come. The company loaded packs on a truck and started hiking to Nouart, about 14 miles south. They arrived in the village at about 5:30 p.m. Higgie went to bed not long after eating. He felt ill after days of unending stress and toil. But he couldn’t sleep. As he lay in the dark with the quiet pressing in around him, he realized that he missed the noise of the guns.

    He awoke in the morning to the same eerie stillness. After breakfast, he threw his rolled-up pack on a truck and began the 20-mile hike back to Montfaucon. Everything seemed so different now as he retraced his steps. Everything was at a standstill. Nobody knew what to make of things. They arrived at Montfaucon after dark. The moon was bright and the air very cold with a fierce wind blowing. The men set up pup tents on the hilltop, where the shattered ruins of the village overlooked the valley. A month before, German planes had bombed the company as they camped in the lowlands just west of Montfaucon, scattering men and lighting up the encampment with bombs. For months, open fires had been forbidden at the front, to keep the troops invisible in the dark. Now, as Higgie sat on the moonlit hilltop, hundreds of campfires blazed in the valley below.

    Postcards of World War I

    Of all the types of material contributed to the Veterans History Project, World War I-era postcards are among my favorites. Postcards sent and kept by veterans are striking in their documentation of World War I and early 20 th century life. They not only depict images of European cities and landscapes, but also include scenes of camp life, battles and even death. The following postcards top my list.

    Postcard depicting a soldier receiving a shave. Philip E. Scholz Collection. Veterans History Project, AFC/2001/001/00864.

    Philip E. Scholz, who served in France with the 332 nd Machine Gun Battalion, collected several humorous postcards depicting camp life. One shows a soldier receiving a shave in a field with other soldiers and a wagon in the background. The inscription reads, “No hot towels here.”  While the light tone may have been an attempt to ease the minds of the recipients, the image demonstrates that camp life was (and is) an integral part of the soldier’s military service.

    Postcard depicting soldiers in a trench during a gas attack. Philip E. Scholz Collection. Veterans History Project, AFC/2001/001/00864.

    A second postcard in the Scholz collection stands in stark contrast to the first one. The black and white image shows soldiers in trenches, wearing gas masks, with an unknown white substance flowing over their heads. The inscription further solidifies the imagery: “Fighting a Gas Attack.”  The use of gas is mentioned in several World War I collections. Most veterans refer to the discomfort of having to wear a gas mask. Another veteran discusses a cough he developed due to a gas attack. Postcards such as this one, depicting battles and death, are a departure from the common use of postcards as pleasant souvenirs of relaxing vacations.

    Photo postcard depicting Philip Scholz (right) with three fellow soldiers. Philip E. Scholz Collection. Veterans History Project, AFC/2001/001/00864.

    Along with traditional postcards, the Scholz collection also includes photographs of the veteran. These photographs are actually “real photo postcards,” also known as RPPCs, and were produced on postcard stock.[i]

    Back of photo postcard depicting Philip Scholz with three fellow soldiers. Philip E. Scholz Collection. Veterans History Project, AFC/2001/001/00864.

    While most will focus on the image, the back of these items illustrates an interesting component of the postcard market during World War I. They allowed soldiers to send home a personalized souvenir to their families. As clearly seen here, the item is labeled as a “Post Card,” with sections for correspondence, an address and a stamp.

    “A Kiss From France” silk postcard. Henry Trollinger McNutt Collection. Veterans History Project, AFC/2001/001/90141.

    By far, my favorite type of World War I postcard is the silk postcard. Soldiers prized these beautiful and artistic items and they were not cheap. [ii] Known as “World War I Silks,” they were typically made of embroidered silk, and were heavily produced from 1914-1919.[iii] I really like the one above from the Henry Trollinger McNutt collection. Sent by McNutt to his girlfriend, the postcard includes a blue peacock, nine embroidered Allied Powers flags and the inscription, “A Kiss From France.”

    Postcard from Edgar D. Andrews to his father [12/24/1917]. Edgar D. Andrews Collection. Veterans History Project, AFC/2001/001/103623.

    Nothing like this in the town where I am.

    Postcards, much like oral histories, letters, memoirs and photographs, play a critical role in telling World War I veterans’ stories. They provide information on location, popular designs and general sentiment, with the occasional message from the veteran. Most importantly, they represent a piece of history for their families, and for themselves.


    [ii] Read, Fergus, “Embroidered Silk Postcards,” Imperial War Museums, August 1, 2017,

    [iii] Read, Fergus, “Embroidered Silk Postcards,” Imperial War Museums, August 1, 2017,

    One Comment

    Philip Scholz was my Great-Grandfather. I just came across all his letters, papers, photos ect. while cleaning out my Grandparents house today. It’s a shock and surprise to find these here. I know my Grandmother submitted a lot of his story and items to preserve the history of it all.

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