October 2, 1914

by Richard van Pelt, WWI Correspondent

Friday’s headlines from the Capital Journal:

MEDICAL CORPS SWAMPED
Losses So Enormous that Wounded Are Forced to Remain Uncared For
RUSSIANS SAY RIVER IS FILLED WITH DEAD
Stories All Favor Side Telling Them and Are Hopelessly Conflicting

“Stories All Favor Side Telling Them” accurately stated the difficulty of obtaining accurate reports of conditions at the fronts, as these headlines illustrate:

RUSSIANS CAPTURE TARNOW, GERMANS FORCED TO RETREAT
Dispatch from Czar’s Capital However Claims Decisive Victory
GERMANS GO FAR IN RUSSIAN TERRITORY
Claim of Capture of Tarnow Doubted – As Germans Have Put Up Defense

BOTH SIDES HAVE VICTORY IN SIGHT – SO BOTH ARE HAPPY
French Say German Resistance Is Fierce But They Are Being Drive Back
BATTLE CONTINUES FIGHTING DESPERATE
Germans Say Allies Repulsed At All Points and Will Continue To Be

Journalists were seldom allowed at the front. Often what we know comes from diaries, letters and oral histories gathered after the war. The photography from the war served a propaganda purpose and was heavily censored. The true face of the war was seldom published, though a few photographs do survive.

Though many in this country thought that the war would bring prosperity because of demand for food and material that we could provide, it also cut in the other direction:

EMBARGO IS PLACED ON JUTE SHIPMENT
This Is a Peculiarly Hard Blow to the Coast Which Uses Bags for Everything

Portland, Ore., Oct. 2 – The embargo placed against the shipment of jute from India by the British government has created a sensation in the country and especially in the Pacific northwest, where practically the entire grain crop is moved in bags.

The entire country is affected by the embargo and there now promises to be a famine in jute which will seriously affect many industries.

Furniture men utilize jute to a considerable extent and all hop bales are packed in jute. Potatoes, onions and sacked vegetables all use jute and there is scarcely a line that will not be affected by the expected shortage.

The embargo was placed against the shipment of jute from Calcutta by the British government on account of the recent sinking of a number of ships which had cargoes of this material. It is alleged by the British government that shipments from India at this time are too dangerous because of the German warships hovering around that neighborhood.

The British imposed the embargo on shipments of jute from Calcutta (Kolkata, West Bengal) on account of the sinking of a number of ships which had been carrying jute to Britain. Jute was vital to the British, who used more than a billion jute sandbags in the construction and maintenance of the trenches during World War I.

The millworkers in Dundee, Scotland had a jute mill song, with which workers at the Kay Woolen Mill could sympathize:

Jute Mill Song

Oh dear me, the mill’s gannin’ fast
The puir wee shifters canna get a rest
Shiftin’ bobbins coorse and fine
They fairly mak’ ye work for your ten and nine
Oh dear me, I wish the day was done
Rinnin’ up and doon the Pass it is nae fun
Shiftin’, piecin’, spinnin’ warp weft and twine
Tae feed and clad my bairnie affen ten and nine
Oh dear me, the warld is ill divided
Them that works the hardest are the least provided
I maun bide contented, dark days or fine
For there’s nae much pleasure livin’ affen ten and nine

With the lack of jute posed to create problems for growers, the war also created “The Linen Problem” which the editor addressed in the same edition of the paper:

The matter of growing flax in the Willamette valley has been broached twice in the past two or three years, and both times it has been “killed with kindness.” The last time it was proposed to raise $150,000 or some such sum for the purpose of manufacturing the fiber. This could not be done. With the paralyzing of the manufacture of the flax products in Belgium and a bad crippling of the same industry in Ireland, the time seems opportune to again take the matter up.

In 1915 the Oregon legislature passed legislation to help build the industry by funding the State Flax Industry at the Oregon State Penitentiary. The manufacture of linen is labor intensive and prison labor provided employment for inmates and assisted in the processing and marketing of the product.

In a coldly, calculating editorial, the Capital Journal reduced the war to numbers:

It looks as though the question of who can win in the European war is answered by the question: Which side can longest stand the losses? With equal the determination, and the allies having more than double the number to start with, there can be but one answer if the losses are practically equal. With one-half the fighting forces of the Russians, French and British have been killed off, there would not be a German left. The processes of attrition would leave the allies conquerors. As England, France and Germany at least feel their existence depends on the result of the war, it will probably be carried to that point where further resistance becomes impossible from sheer exhaustion. Looked at from this view point, there seems but little hope of victory for the Germans. They are putting up a desperate fight with indomitable bravery and unequalled courage, but mathematics says they cannot win, unless there is a backing down on the part of the allies.

In other words, who has the deepest bench? It would not be until 1917, when the United States entered the war, that the cumulative effects would tilt the balance in favor of the allies.

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About whclarc

We are devoted to providing information fresh from the Archives, Library and Collections of the Willamette Heritage Center in Salem, Oregon. We specialize in the history of Marion County and the greater Salem area.
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