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Havre and the War Involving World

 

December 29, 2017

By Keith J. Doll

Havre/Hill County Historic Preservation Commission

This year, 2017, is the 100th year that the United States entered the Great War, or, War to End All Wars, War Involving World, World War One, or the European War. This war was started on July 28, 1914, after the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary and his wife, Sophie, were assassinated on June 28, 1914, in Sarajevo, Bosnia. A complete timeline of the war is in the Havre Plaindealer dated Nov. 23, 1918. There were 32 countries involved in the war, others remained neutral.

While the United States was still a neutral country, the Red Cross would supply doctors, nurses and medical supplies to the war victims on each side. Back then, it was hard to get people involved and give funds to operate the Red Cross; after all, "this was a war in Europe and we're a neutral country." The Red Cross had a ship called the SS Red Cross, later the Mercy Ship. It had a large red stripe on the hull, defining it as a neutral ship. This all changed on April 6, 1917, when the United States declared war on Germany. This was done because of Germany's renewal of the sinking of ships in unrestricted waters where their submarines could sink any ship without notice. They would sink American, unarmed merchant vessels and they also sank the Lusitania, a British ocean liner, on May 17, 1915, killing 1,198 passengers and crew. 128 people were American citizens. The second cause for the war was the "Zimmerman Telegram," a coded message sent by German Minister Arthur Zimmerman to the German Minister in Mexico and decoded by the British. It basically said that in the event that America goes to war, Mexico should take Germany's side. In exchange, Germany will give them financial support and give them back Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. In one year after we joined the war, the Red Cross went to 2 million members and 8 million volunteers.

The Selective Service Act of 1917, or the Draft Act, took effect on May 18, 1917. The unmarried men with no dependents were drafted. They would take men between the ages of 21 thru 30; in August of 1918 it was amended to 18 to 45 years of age and no volunteering. Many men of draft age got married so they didn't have to go to war; they would have a wife that depended on them. The Havre Promoter called them "slackers" or "cowards." One man from Roundup, Montana, got married so he didn't have to go to war. He said "He would do his fighting at home." A boy from Great Falls, Montana, was only 14 when he joined the U.S. Navy. He lied about his age and said he was older than he was. His name was Mike Mansfield. Adolf Hitler also served in WW1 and was a lance corporal in the Bavarian Army.

The end of May 1917, Montana was to furnish eight million dollars for a war that would end up costing the U.S. government close to $33 billion. The first Liberty Loan Drive for Montana was started on April 28, 1917. The national goal was $2 billion at 3.5 percent interest. Liberty Loans started at $50 and went up. Havre, Malta, Gildford and Kremlin subscribed over $30,000. The first part of November 1917 was the second Liberty Loan Drive, this time the government wanted $3 billion at 4 percent interest. Montana was given a quota of $21,000,000 and exceeded it. Hill County alone gave $175,000. The war "Thrift Stamp" was started the end of 1917 and aimed for the women and children. Stamps were sold in small amounts, such as 25 cents. When you had 16 stamps on a certificate, it could be exchanged for a $5 stamp. When you had 10 stamps on a certificate, you could trade it in for a Liberty Bond. This was a good way for the school children and women shoppers to support the war effort.

On June 26, 1917, the first contingent of trained soldiers arrived in France. On June 27 the second contingent arrived, followed by General John Joseph Pershing. Gen. Pershing led the American Expeditionary Force, AEF, in Europe. American Expeditionary Force is a military force fighting in another country. Pershing was a commander at Fort Assinniboine, back then, he was a first lieutenant. When Gen. Pershing led the AEF, he was firm in having an American Army and not to "fill in" where the French and British needed soldiers. He also believed in training them before they went to Europe. When Germany signed the armistice on November 11, 1918, he was the only allied commander against it. He believed Germany should surrender unconditionally. Gen. Pershing was one of two generals in history to receive the Generals of Armies award, the other was Gen. George Washington. The General of Armies award is the highest rank you can get in the U.S. Army.

A service flag or banner was placed in the home by the wife, parents or other family members. It had a white background with a red border around it and a blue star in the center for a family member serving in the armed forces. If there were more than one serving, there were that many stars put in the center. When a person is killed at war or wounded and died later from the wound then a gold star would be sewn over the blue star. Many businesses or factories would have a banner hanging with blue stars on it, one for each employee serving in the armed forces. They would also place a gold star over a blue star if an employee died in the war. There was no exact size of a banner, but if the American flag is next to it, then the American flag was to be larger.

Havre was encouraged to plant extra food for the war effort. People were called upon who had a vacant lot or extra garden space to plant more. These were called Victory Gardens, War Gardens or Liberty Gardens. Most of the agricultural labor in Europe went to fight the war and some of the farm ground was used for battle. Europe needed food also. Soon the "city farmer" was born. The U.S. also called upon the farmers to plant more spring wheat when we joined in 1917. "Meatless Mondays" and "Wheatless Wednesdays" were observed for Americans to help with the war effort. In Montana, it was "Wheatless Days" on Monday and Wednesday. Tuesday aas "Meatless Day" and Saturday was "Porkless Day." Noon meals were all to be wheatless. Substitutes had to be sold with flour, for every three units of flour, there was one unit of a substitute. Substitutes were either cornmeal, cornstarch, hominy, corn grits, barley flour, rice, rice flour, oatmeal, rolled oats, buckwheat flour, potato flour, bean flour, feterita flours and meals. If you bought bread, it was also made with substitutes and called "Victory Bread" or "War Bread." They also had many posters, a main one read, "Save the Wheat, and Help the Fleet, Eat Less Bread." If you were found guilty of food hoarding, you could be fined up to $5,000 or two years in prison or both. On March 11, 1918, Montana went on a 50/50 basis of wheat and substitute. The people of Montana were asked to have a "Wheatless June." It meant that no form of wheat products to be eaten during the month of June. A slogan read, "Let Montana be the Next State in the Union to make a Wheat Sacrifice for Victory."

July 1, 1918 was the start of sugar rationing. If you used sugar for your job, such as a bakery or soda fountains, you needed a sugar certificate, or you wouldn't get any. Other customers were allowed 3 pounds a month. A canning certificate was to be presented to obtain more sugar for canning. You could only get 25 pounds a time. Dealers were to cancel the sugar certificates at the time it was presented.

The USS Montana ACR 13 was a Navy armored cruiser that transported soldiers to France along with four other ships. When the war was over in 1918, the USS Montana made six trips to France bringing back a total of 8,800 soldiers. The USS Montana was decommissioned in 1921 and renamed the Missoula, freeing up the Montana name. The ship was sold in 1930 and in 1935 it was salvaged and scrapped.

Horses were a significant part of the Great War. When the war started in 1914 horses were used in the cavalry on both sides to fight each other. Then came the trenches and the constant use of machine guns, the cavalry attacks slowly dwindled. The Havre paper read, "Government Plans on Buying Horses." There was a set price and no contract was issued for under 300 horses. The purchasing office for the Northern Purchasing Zone, which included Montana was at Fort Keogh, Montana. Horses would transport the troops, pull the artillery, carry messengers, pull supply wagons and ambulances. Vehicles were new and prone to problems. They were usually behind the lines or in camps. The horse could also go over rough terrain and through mud. When the war started in 1914, the British Army was short horses, so the U.S. sent some. From 1914 to 1918 the U.S. sent almost 1 million horses to war, another 182,000 went to war with our troops. After the war was over, only 200 came back. 60,000 were killed most of the others died of diseases, poison gas, exposure, exhaustion or starvation.

Other animals playing a part in the war were mules; they ate less food than horses and took the change in the weather better. Mules would go longer with less water than horses and resisted disease better. Camels, in the Middle East, could cover more ground in less time caring a soldier and his supplies. Camels weren't nervous around artillery and rifle fire. Some elephants came from a zoo and were used; they could pull as much as three horses. Dogs were also an important part in the war. Doberman pinchers and German shepherds were mainly used. Sentry dogs were usually Dobermans, they would snarl, growl or bark when an enemy approached. A scout dog with its keen sense of smell could smell the enemy 1,000 yards away. It would point its tail and raise the hair on its backbone. A casualty or mercy dog carried medical supplies to the wounded. If the wounded couldn't help themselves, then the dog would stay there until help arrived. If the soldier was dying, the dog was trained to stay there until he died. The messenger dog could run faster and navigate rough terrain better than a soldier. It was also a smaller target for a sniper. The terrier was used in the trench as a "ratter." It would chase down the rat and kill it.

Carrier pigeons were very helpful in the war. They would fly high and fast with a message and would make a small target to shoot. In the trenches, there were uses for glow worms. Candles would be bright and flicker, the enemy would shoot a rifle grenade in the spot. It was soon found the glow worm worked well to read maps or messages. As they called them in the trenches, the "Slug Brigade." Slugs could detect gas before humans, they would close their breathing pores and compress their bodies. When the soldiers saw this, they would put on their gas masks. The slugs did live through the gas attack and were credited with saving thousands of soldiers lives. Mascots were also used, they were dogs, cats, foxes, bear cubs, monkeys, goats, raccoons, chickens and kangaroos, some of these were also kept as pets. The French air force Lafayette Escadrille, of mostly American volunteer pilots, had two lion mascots. Their names were Whisky and Soda.

Trenches were dug by the soldiers in three different ways. The first way, the easiest and fastest, was called "entrenching." It was dug straight into the ground from the top, but it left the soldiers open to rifle fire from the enemy. The second was called "sapping." The trench would be dug from one end. It was safer but slower since only two men could dig at once. "Tunneling" was the third way. A tunnel would be dug, then the top removed. It was the safest way, but most difficult. The type of ground was also a factor in all three ways. The trench system had a main fire trench or front line. All the trenches were dug in a zig zag pattern so the enemy couldn't shoot straight down the line and kill many soldiers. If a mortar, grenade or artillery shell would land in the trench, it would only get the soldiers in that part, not down the line. "No Man's Land" was the area of ground between the two front lines which usually had between 30 and 250 yards between them. It contained rows of barbed wire, land mines, abandoned or blown up military equipment, shell holes or artillery craters, dead soldiers, dead horses, pieces of soldiers uniforms, tree roots and what was left of trees and vegetation.

There were "Saps," a trench dug out from the front line and into no man's land used for a listening post. Every now and then, humanity would kick in on both sides of the trenches and they would call a truce to pick up the dead bodies. Christmas Eve, December of 1914, both sides in an area of the Western Front had a "Christmas Truce." They met in No Man's Land and exchanged gifts. The gifts were either food, tobacco, alcohol or cigarettes. Souvenirs were also given such as buttons and hats. There were truces on the Eastern Front as well. In 1915 there weren't as many truces due to orders, from commanders on both sides, not to fraternize with the enemy. By 1916, truces were forbidden.

Germans had a better and more sophisticated trench than the allied troops. A surveillance plane would fly over the enemy trench and watch for a build-up of troops getting ready for an attack. The trench front or "parapet" was six to ten feet deep with sandbags stacked above ground level to about three feet high and "sniper shields" placed in them. A sniper shield was a piece of steel plate about 14" high by 20" wide and curved edges on each side to deflect bullet fragments and shrapnel. It had an elongated hole in the middle for shooting. When it wasn't in use there was a flap that would cover the opening. The sandbags were filled with dirt they dug from making the trench. They were stacked higher on the back or "parades" to stop the bullets and artillery fragments from going farther back. From the bottom to ground level on the front and backs of the trenches were either more sandbags, boards, lath-type materials, corrugated metal sheets or sticks, this was to keep the sides from falling in. A "fire-bay" was a straight part of the trench so the soldiers wouldn't be firing at an angle. On the ground was a wooden "duckboard." The duckboard was to keep your feet out of the mud and water that would accumulate from snow and rain. The trenches were about 3 to 6 feet wide and 6 to 10 feet high with a "fire-step" on the front of it about 2 to 3 feet high. A fire-step is where the soldier stood to shoot. The latrine was a deep hole in the ground with a mounted plank on it for the men to sit on.

The soldiers would have to ask for permission to leave their post and use the latrine. This was usually a target for enemy snipers. Behind the front line about 250 feet was the "Support Trench." This trench, as the name implies, was used in case the enemy took the front line. The support trench would have dugouts dug into the side of the trench with room for about four men to squeeze in for shelter from the elements. About 400 to 600 yards farther back was the "Reserve Trench." The reserve trench was for the soldiers to rest before going back to the front line. It also had cooks, medics, extra supplies and new soldiers. The trenches were connected by "Communication Trenches," they were used to transport wounded men, equipment, supplies and food. Trench repair was a constant daily job. The sides of the trenches would cave in from either enemy shells or the weather.

Boredom was also another factor in the trenches. To pass the time, while in the trenches and everything was done a soldier would either read a letter from home, write a letter, write in their journals, read a book, draw, paint or do trench art. Trench art was made by soldiers, from shell casings, shrapnel, spent bullets or whatever they could find. It was a reminder of the war for them.

Bunkers were located in the front and back of the trench system. The front bunker was dug partway into the ground and was used for machine guns or mortars, it was maned by two or three soldiers. The rear bunker was also part of the trench system and was built usually underground and used as a command post with telephone, an operation center, field hospital for the wounded and storage.

About 6 miles farther back were the long-range artillery. These were used to shoot at the enemy and in no man's land. Each battle, several allied troops on the front line were killed by the artillery shells not going far enough. The dressing station was located in an existing building or bunker, away from enemy shell fire. If the wounded or sick could walk, they would walk to the dressing station. Trained "stretcher-bearers" would take them if they couldn't walk. There they were cleaned up and the bleeding stopped and either sent a few miles back to the casualty cleaning station, usually by train, or back to their unit. At the casualty cleaning station they would give them more medical attention and clean their wounds more, then send them to a base hospital for surgery or amputations.

Shell shock, now called post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD, was high in trenches. It was estimated that after the war there were 80,000 cases of shell shock.

The trenches had names on them. Because of so many trenches, it was estimated that after the war, if all the trenches were in a straight line, they would extend for 25,000 miles. So headquarters could keep updated on the trenches, the front line trench had numbers according to the map. If a trench was located in square D, that section of the map would be divided into smaller squares and numbered D1, D2, D3, and so on. The front line trench was also numbered this way, so it would coincide with the map. The men could name the support and reserve trench. They were given names with support and reserve at the end of it, such as, "Betty Support" or "Wheat Reserve." A main communication trench was given an Avenue name, while a not so important communication trench was given a Lane or Alley name. The names had to be small and not used on another map. Once a name was on a map, you could not change it.

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Editor's note: Watch for more of Keith Doll's report on the anniversary of the U.S. entry into and fighting in World War I in future editions of the Havre Daily News.

 

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