As an author, I’m often asked where I get my story ideas. Truthfully, the story fairy has something to do with it. But it usually starts with a question. In this case, it came down to what I’d been taught in school versus what a critique partner learned in his class. It was classic revisionism at work. In the case of the United States (where I went to school), liberties are taken with the truth to help our country of many nationalities heal after such things as war.

And the Great War wasn’t great in a good way.

To make matters worse, most folks think World War Two is the only one that matters, the only one that produced heroism in the face of unimaginable danger.

The more I read about World War One, the more I wanted to do something to lengthen the short stick it’s received. Since my time machine is currently broken, the only way to fix the wrongs and to highlight the best of humanity was to bring the time period alive through the romance genre. And I started where the war officially began with Belgium in 1914, when a little nation tried to withstand the might of the German war machine. While World War Ones most notable legacy is, sadly, World War Two, the Great War impacted the United States and the world in other ways.

A hundred years later, here are just a few:

The Belgian people led the way in passive resistance. From wearing the banned colors of their national flag via ribbons and flowers, all the way to civil disobedience such as not observing German time (a forerunner of Daylight Savings time, also a result of WW1) these folks laid the foundation upon which Gandhi and Martin Luther King would bring about major social revolutions.

While the United States initially leaned toward the Central Powers (Germany and her allies), the Germans policy of sinking nonmilitary vessels soon swung the pendulum toward the Allies. This gave rise to two things—one being the notion of civilians as noncombatants and therefore somehow immune to the brutality of war. And second, in the United States, the anti-German sentiment gave the temperance movement ammunition as most of the brewmasters were German and hence we enacted that disaster known as Prohibition.

In the US, protests arose over the mandatory draft and registration of males of fighting age. Furthermore, the treason and sedition acts made it a crime to criticize the military or government, laying a scary foundation for the Patriot Act.

Internment camps were set up in the US, Canada and the Allied countries to deal with those with ties to the Central Powers.

Women gained the right to vote for their part in the War effort. Oddly enough, the only women legislator at the time was the only person in history to vote against the US entering both World Wars One and Two.

I would like to say that Shell Shock (now known as PTSD) received attention, but alas that wasn’t the case. Many with Battle fatigue were executed for cowardice. However, there were considerable advancements in the field of medicine.

As we remember the conflict on this centennial year, more than flowers and fine speeches, I think the best way to honor those who died is to not repeat their mistakes.

Until next time.

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Legends and More from the First World War

It’s only natural that when governments clamp down on news from the front that citizens take the slightest tidbit and make it into a story. In other cases, the truth stands as a story so amazing, it doesn’t need embellishment.

This is particularly telling for the Christmas Truce of 1914. The Great War was supposed to be over by Christmas. Instead, soldiers found themselves settling into their trenches for 5 years of hard fighting. Still on Christmas Eve, nearly 100,000 soldiers participated in a truce  along the western front. While in some parts, the truce was only for the collection of the dead or the swapping of prisoners. Other areas saw soldiers exchange rations, cigarettes, newspapers, and even engage in football game (The British version, not the American one). Throughout the war, both sides would call greetings to the other side or as the war wore on, taunt the other with songs. There are instances where such truces occurred on the Eastern front, some of them around Easter. Naturally, the leadership frowned upon these actions. FMI

Others had their roots planted firmly in fiction.

The Angel of Mons—Sleep deprivation has side effects, add in the stress of a pell-mell retreat in the face of an overwhelming enemy force, and there’s plenty of fodder for the imagination to take flight. During the long March, many of the British soldiers and officers reported seeing calvary marching in the fields beside them. About this time (and to boost morale) Arthur Machen wrote a fictional short story called The Bowmen. In it, the long bow archers of St. George of Agincourt let fly a flurry of arrows and slew the approaching Germans, saving 80 thousand retreating British soldiers. From this emerged the legend of the Angel of Mons—a less lethal version turning the archers into angels who didn’t kill the enemy, just merely made them retreat. FMI This legend had the added benefit of showing that God was on the side of the Allies. A different variation of this myth is the Comrade in White. The Christ-like figure with freshly bleeding crucifixion wounds who tended to those gravely ill, carrying them off the battlefield or standing watch over them until help arrived.

The Lost Battalion—During the disastrous Gallipoli campaign, eyewitnesses said a company of ANZACs advanced toward the Ottoman lines. The soldiers were shrouded by loaf-like clouds then disappeared, never to be seen again. Sadly, the true story is much worse. The soldiers and officers found themselves behind enemy lines, were cut off, then cut down by the well-entrenched enemy. FMI

The American Expeditionary Forces have a similar story without the clouds and thankfully the entire company wasn’t wiped out. FMI

And lastly, there’s the Hidden Hand. No, not the alien-government conspiracy. This was the German-Allied government conspiracy. In it, high ranking members of the British government were spying for the Germans. This network also infiltrated civil service, industry, and the military, preventing the prosecution of spies by the allies, making it self-sustaining because of the lack of evidence. Click here for a list of conspiracies. The Hidden Hand is the main antagonist of my favorite Hitchcock movie, The 39 Steps. The story was original set in 1915 during the First World War, not the second as in the movie.

Until Next Time.

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Acts Against Liberty

In war, everyone makes sacrifices. Not all of them are voluntary, some are legislated.

After declaring war on the Central Powers, the US opened another front, a home front, against hyphenated Americans: German-Americans, Irish-Americans, and Jews (who were perceived as hating Russia).

It began in May 1917 with the Selective Service Act to raise an force to fight the enemy (no exclusions for religious reasons), and included the Trading with the Enemy Act (making it illegal to do business with the Central Powers).

June 1917- The Espionage Act prohibited spying and sabotage, but went further by forbidding public criticism of the military.

1918- The Alien Act deported noncitizen suspected of actions and beliefs hostile to the US.

The Sedition Act, an extension of the Espionage Act, banned lettering, printing, writing or publishing any disloyal, profane, scurrilous or abusive language against the government or armed forces.

As a result of these acts, citizens and residents of German/Austrian ancestry were confined to specific regions in cities (ghettos), prohibited from working certain jobs, banned from displays of their culture, and the newly formed American Protective League encouraged citizens to spy on them and each other. Sadly, none of these ‘spies’ came forward when German-American shops were looted, their owners assaulted, or even killed.

Pacifists, labor unions, and Socialists were targeted specifically by the Espionage and Sedition legislation with over 700 people jailed because of it.  Most of whom were forced to serve out their sentence after the Sedition Act was repealed in the 1920’s because its parent, the Espionage Act, remained in place.

The legacy of these acts continue today most notably in the prosecution and harassment of whistleblowers.



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Taking Care

Nothing advances medicine more than war. The injuries inflicted on soldiers and civilians evolve because of advances in weaponry. And while World War 1 was the first fully industrial war, the US Civil War foreshadowed the horrors to come with its use of submarines, aerial surveillance, trench warfare, and repeating rifles. Sadly, the knowledge of treating these injuries was deemed to horrifying and kept from the Allied doctors in the initial year of WW1.

But not everything that had gone before was dismissed so easily. The biggest advance came from triage. First used during the Napoleonic Wars, the idea of ranking injuries during initial treatment was refined and perfected during the Great War.

As soon as the men were brought from the battlefield, their injuries were assigned to 3 categories: Those who would survive with treatment, those who wouldn’t make it with treatment, and those who if they received treatment right away could make the difference between living and dying.

Obviously, the last one had the priority, while the middle group was moved to a separate area until they passed.

Once initial treatment or categorization was complete, the wounded were moved further behind the lines by wagon, ambulance, train, ship, or walking for more in-depth care.

Here again many were sorted into wards, most by color coded cards detailing their injuries. The barracks assigned were also a different color, denoting the injuries treated inside.

Such a simple scheme made a dramatic difference. On the outbreak of war, casualties were projected at 30%, but this system reduced its impact to 10%. A remarkable achievement in a world without antibiotics.

Until next time.

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The First International Aid Movement

I grew up in an age of international aid. Any time a disaster happens in the world, nations come together to provide medical, food, and other supplies to those effected. Earthquakes in Haiti, Tsunamis in Japan and Indonesia, or Hurricanes in New York or New Orleans. The newspapers report on it and share information on how you can help.

Such was not always the case. For most of human history, charity began and ended at the home or village. Word didn’t spread about events thousands of miles away or if it did it took too long to affect any real relief. Aid societies revolved around churches and the needy in the community or missions to far off places.

Then came wireless telegrams and telephones. News traveled from Europe to America in minutes not days or weeks. While shipping still took days, steamships no longer required months to cross the Atlantic. Food, blankets, and clothing could be sent from one place to another in real time.

And yet, it still took a terrible event for aid on an international scale to begin. It started when the Imperial German Army rolled into neutral Belgium. The Kaiser planned to use the amazing networks of railroads and canals to overrun France in 6 weeks. Instead, the Belgian Army resisted and weeks turned into months.

World War One had begun.

And with it, the second most populated nation in Western Civilization (Belgium) began to starve. The country imported over 75% of its food. Between the demands of the Kaiser’s Army and the British blockade, Belgium was predicted to run out of food by mid-October. Neutral emissaries  were sent to buy food, but the British wouldn’t let the ships through the blockades and there were no guarantees the Germans wouldn’t requisition it.

Enter the neutral countries of Spain, America, and Holland, a young mining engineer named Herbert Hoover and the Commission for Relief in Belgium was founded. With the guarantees of the consulates of Spain, America, and Holland behind it, the Commission was able to pass the blockades and secure guarantees from the occupying Army.

Mr. Hoover kept the plight of the Belgians in the newspapers, forcing both the German and English governments to keep the Commission in operation through public pressure. While the funding for the food came primarily from England, France, and Belgium, there were a series of Christmas Ships whose cargo was donated by the people of the world from New Zealand and Australia, England, Canada to the United States.

Nine million people were fed and clothed in Belgium and Northern France during the Commission’s operation in the World War 1. But the work these pioneers laid continues to be the foundation many international aid organizations rest upon today.

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A Hundred Years Ago

For women, remaining single today doesn’t carry the same stigma as it did 100 years ago. You know the words associated with single women—spinster, old maid, dependent aunt, family drudge.

Single women were pretty much seen as a burden to the household. Yes, single women could hold jobs. Jobs they were forced to quit when they married. Yet even while single, they were usually not given a livable wage and their behavior was under constant scrutiny by others.

But war changes many things, and on this, the centennial of the outbreak of The Great War (World War 1) let’s look back and see how far we’ve come.

True, prior to the outbreak of the war, women worked in factories. They were paid worse than a pittance because their work was seen as the work women usually did for families, so it wasn’t as valued as a man’s labor. Some of the women saw a spike in their wages because those companies who accepted government contracts were required to pay the women a man’s wage. This wasn’t benevolence on the company’s part, it was because the government wanted to make certain the men would get their jobs back after the war (and not be undercut by cheap labor).

The introduction of the typewriter coupled with the shortage of men allowed women to move into the office. Of course, this was seen as an extension of the woman managing a household, allowing some bosses to rationalize their demand for bedroom rights. Even so, office work was safer than factory work and had shorter hours.

While we in the US think of nursing as an honorable profession since the Civil War, most of Europe considered it only fit for nuns. This was in part because of their exposure to the nude male form, but also because of the rather horrible male behaviors the nurse would be exposed to. In fact, nurses both secular and nonsecular were referred to as Sisters until after World War 2 (some Commonwealth countries may still use this language).

During the war, women served on the front lines, but not as regular enlisted. They were civilian telegraph operators, ambulance drivers, and couriers. Most of the officers preferred them to their male counterparts. Sadly, this made women who risked their lives to support the military targets of soldiers’ frustrations and envy. Their civilian status also meant they didn’t receive any veteran’s benefits. In fact it wasn’t until President Clinton’s term in office that their service was even recognized. There were not many survivors left at the time.

To thank women for their contributions, women received the right to vote. In the US, the 19th Amendment gave women over 21 voting rights in 1920. In England, all women over 30 received the right to vote in 1918 (by 1928, women over 21 could vote). Germany allowed women to vote in 1918. Austria followed in 1919. Australia and New Zealand women could vote at the end of the 19th century (roughly 1895). Canadian women won the vote from 1916 to 1940 depending on where they lived. French women weren’t fully enfranchised until 1944; Belgium 1946. Italy 1946. Ireland was 1922.

A hundred years ago, an archduke’s assassination led to a war that killed 10 million men in uniform and wounded millions more. It is estimated that 30 million women of that generation were either widowed or forced to remain single because of the casualties. The rights and privileges that so many of us take for granted are because of the men and women who came before us.

As we remember the Great War, let us also be thankful that their legacy isn’t just of carnage but of rights, liberties, and opportunities that all peoples of all nations can celebrate.

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Communication is Key

Communication is key in war. And I don’t mean among the armed forces on both sides of the conflict. I refer to the soldiers and their families, between those behind enemy lines and those on the home front. Long before the days of email and text messages, there were letters and newspapers and the state sponsored postcard.

To keep the lines of communications open between families behind enemy lines and soldiers on the front lines in World War 1, to give hope to those in occupied Belgium and Northern France, brave men and women had to step forward. The Germans promised to deal with these couriers ‘severely.’ And records indicate that some were executed. But who were the leaders?

Legend has it that a priest set up a underground letter carrier service after one of his parishioners witnessed a courier trying to extort money from an old woman in exchange for a letter from her son. When the old woman couldn’t pay the outrageous fees, the letter was torn up in front of her eyes. When Father de Moor and Belgian businessman Van Doren set up their postal service letters were carried for free.

But that wasn’t the only lines of communications these two men opened.

Beginning in 1915, they along with an editor named Jourdain started an underground newspaper called La Libre Belgique (The Free Belgium). Despite offering a reward of 50,000 francs for their capture, the Germans remained ignorant of their identities. The paper ceased publication on the day King Alfred rode into Brussels in November, 1918.

More than news and ideas, these gentlemen and their cadre of workers delivered hope to a people in need of it. And hope is the most precious gift, especially in times of uncertainty.

Until next time.

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