December 1, 1914

by Richard van Pelt, WWI Correspondent

Anything approaching first hand descriptions of the war were rare:

SCENES AT FRONT WITH AUSTRIANS VIVIDLY DEPICTED
War Correspondent Tells of Trip to the Front of the Army at Przemysl
TRACKS FOR RUSHING CANNON TO THE FRONT
Telephone Lines Built Fast as Army Advances, Keeping All in Touch

7:45 a. m. – Under the escort of Colonel Jahn and Captain Minkeh, we start for the front . . . bundled into one of the typical springless basket-bodied Galician wagons.

8 a. m. – We are on the main road leading from the great fortification of Przemysl to the hills, where the artillery firing is heaviest. At 8:10 we pass the cholera hospital and five minutes later we pass through the gate of the inner fortifications. The road is covered with wagons. Two tightly packed lines of them are going in our direction. Another line on the left side is going tower Przemysl with sick and wounded. The steam from thousands of sweating horses rises like a thin mist along the trail. The sight is so wonderful that some the wounded men keep their eyes on it. The sick men, some with green faces and loose, opened mouths of cholera victims, hang their heads, half dead.

8:15 a. m. – On both sides of the road, on plough farm land, huge bands of recruits are training. They have stamped the wet earth into a black, smooth, shining field that glitters like jet.

. . . The road dips into a valley. On both sides stretch an immense camp of tents and covered wagons. The smoke from thousands of fire hangs over it all. Mud, men, flags, smoke, horse, wagons, piles of bread, harness, rifles, form a weird and indescribable picture that covers hundreds of acres in the valley. This is a reserve camp.

A spherical balloon, a dirigible balloon and two aeroplanes are soaring or darting above the hills.

A soldier is leaning against a wall at the gateway of a convent, but the convent is only a heap of broken brick and stone. The Austrian soldier has only the ruin to guard, and he evidently considers his task a bore.

****

On a hillside a mile away are thousands of men in gray. They form a gray carpet over the great slope. I can see a white horse among them as I look through my glasses. The carpet moves and forms itself into patterns of straight lines on a green background. These thousands of men are to be taken to the front after dark tonight. They are waiting, and to keep them from growing nervous, their officers put them through drills now and then.

With the war entering its fifth month, and now lasting much longer than foreseen by many, each side is saying the war was forced upon them, prompting this editorial:

A WAR NOBODY WANTED

The German crown prince says: “Germany did not want this war; it was forced on her by her enemies.” General Joffre, the French commander, says: “France did not want this war; it was forced on her, and she is now waging war for humanity.” Lord Kitchener says, and so does Premier Asquith: “England did not seek this war; it was forced on her and she is now fighting for humanity and the peace of the world.” The czar says: “Russia did not want this war, but it was forced on her and she is now fighting the battle of the world against German aggression and in the interests of peace.” The Austrian prime minister says: “Austria did not want the war, but it was forced on her by Russia and she is fighting the world’s menace and her own, the Russian bear.” Servia says she “did not want the war,” but that it was forced on her by Austria and that she is fighting for her existence.

Here we have the greatest war in history, in which each party is fighting for humanity, and in a war that was forced on it. Considering that no one wanted it and that no one started it, it has assumed pretty large proportions. Servia is the only one that can make her claim good that it was forced on her. As to the others there is a wide difference of opinion among non-belligerent nations as to who and what caused the whole trouble, and few if any of these believe the war is all in the interest of humanity, is wanting in sordid motives, or that each is telling the exact truth and the whole truth in laying the blame all on the other fellow.

The editor is largely correct. Up until the opening of hostilities the instigators hoped against hope that war would not occur. Decision makers sometimes (often) did not have all of the facts. Many who did not want war had, nonetheless, long believed that war was inevitable. The inevitability of war drove how each prepared for this inevitability. Each belligerent’s strategy was finely calibrated to the process of mobilization, with the goal to be fully mobilized prior to their opponent. There was no off switch once mobilization was declared, no command-alt-delete or force quit. The web of alliances each wove to constrain and inhibit their opponents effectively predetermined the nature of the war. For this reason, an event in the Balkans meant that Germany and France would fight each other at a time and at a place utterly unrelated to the ultimate cause of the conflict.

Criticizing the saber-rattling of the Oregonian, the editor comments on the propensity of some to strike first and ask questions later:

Now it is rumored that a British cruiser has fired on an American ship, and we presume that the Oregonian will demand hostile reprisal at once, with explanations afterwards. Let’s see, if the Portland editor could have his way, we would now be engaged in war with Mexico, Turkey, Germany and Great Britain, with several other parts of the globe to hear from. Trying to keep at peace with the world without the sacrifice of honor or the rights of our citizens, is characterized by the Oregonian as “spineless diplomacy” – and that is a crime against humanity, it avers. The amount of raw beefsteak that the editor consumes is probably responsible, in the main, for the boost in meat prices.

The reader may find it confusing to track events. To help, here is a chronology for the month of November:

Date Events
1 German forces capture Messines, south of Ypres
1 Naval battle off Coronel
2 First elements of Indian Expeditionary Force “F” leave India for Egypt
2 Government of India announces immunity of Muslim holy places during hostilities with Turkey
2 Russia declares war on Turkey
2 Admirality declares North Sea a military zone
2 British force begins attack at Tanga in German East Africa
3 German naval raid on Great Yarmouth and Gorleston
3 British troops cross northern frontier of German East Africa
3 Allied naval squadrons bombard forts at entrance to Dardanelles
5 Britain and France formally declare war on Turkey
5 Britain annexes Cyprus
5 British force repulsed at Tanga
6 Advanced troops of Indian Expeditionary Force “D” land at Fao in Mesopotamia
6 British submarine B-11 proceeds to miles into Dardanelles straits
7 Tsingtau (China) falls to Japanese forces
9 German cruiser “Emden” destroyed by Australian war ship HMAS “Sydney” off the Cocos Islands
10 Dixmude stormed by German forces
10 British forces attacks Sheikh Sa-ad in Southern Arabia
11 Heavy German attack in Ypres area repulsed at Nonne Bosschen
11 Sheikh-ul-Islam issues fatwah declaring jihad against all Allied forces
14 Field Marshal Earl Roberts dies in France, visiting Indian troops
16 First elements of Indian Expeditionary Force “F” arrive in Egypt
21 British naval air raid against Zeppelin sheds at Friedrichshafen
22 Officially recognised end of First Battle of Ypres
22 War Office takes control of operations in East Africa
22 British force in Mesopotamia captures Basrah
23 Portuguese givernment announces prospective co-operation with Britain
26 HMS “Bulwark” destroyed by internal explosion in Sheerness harbour
27 General Paul von Hindenburg promoted Field Marshal
28 Fighting at Miranshah on NW frontier of India

The news of the day as reported by The Daily Capital Journal

 

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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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