Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Some events and quotes from early 1916

February 6: Jan Smuts (future Prime Minister of South Africa) accepts command of a British force, which includes African and Indian soldiers, that is to capture German East Africa. One of Alfred North Whitehead's sons, Thomas North Whitehead (later a professor at Harvard Business School), serves in the east Africa campaign.

February 12: From a letter by Arthur Graeme West:
I got a "Spenser" from T....., and am now travelling through "The Faerie Queen" with the chaste Britomart. Yes, by all means send me "Tom Jones": those long things I can manage very well here, when we are back from the hellish trenches, where I find it hard to read, though I can manage to write letters, more or less.....How bloody people seem to be in England about peace and peace meetings. I suppose they are getting rather Prussian in the country, but are all peace meetings always broken up by soldiers (who've probably never been here at all)? (West, Diary of a Dead Officer, p. 12)
February 23: Étienne Gilson is taken prisoner by the Germans at the Battle of Verdun.
Indian troops at Kut Al Amara
Source of above image.

March 1: An excerpt from Abhi Le Baghdad by Sisir Sarbadhikari, who served with the British Indian forces that were trapped in the Siege of Kut Al Amara (about 100 miles south of Baghdad):
A bombardment started on the morning of March 1....A Gurkha was standing outside his tent, smoking, and the bomb fell near him. For a while there was only smoke and dust. When it cleared we saw only chunks of flesh and bone; the earth around there had turned into blood-soaked mud. (Sisir Sarbadhikari, Abhi Le Baghdad, trans. Amitav Ghosh [Calcutta, 1958], p. 80)
On April 27, three British intelligence agents, including Captain Thomas Edward Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia), offered the Ottoman commanders a million pounds' worth of gold in exchange for release of the troops at Kut. The offer was refused. The British Indian forces surrendered to the Ottoman forces on April 29, 1916. At the time, it was the largest surrender of troops that the British had made.

March 1: Benito Mussolini promoted to rank of Corporal. From his recommendation:
For his exemplary activity, high Bersaglieresque spirit and calmness. Always first in every enterprise of work or daring. Heedless of discomforts, zealous and scrupulous in the carrying out of his duties.
March 2: Charles de Gaulle is wounded and captured by the Germans at the Battle of Verdun.

Franz Marc, 'Dreaming Horse' - Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation

March 4: Artist Franz Marc is killed at the Battle of Verdun. 'In one day at Verdun...7,000 horses were killed by German and French shelling....In one of his last letters before his death, the German painter Franz Marc exclaimed: "The poor horses!"' Shortly after his death, Marc's 1914 paper ('Im Fegefeuer des Krieges') is published with the epigraph 'Im Anfang war die Tat'.

March 8Edmund Husserl's son Wolfgang Husserl is killed at the Battle of Verdun. In a letter to Hugo Münsterberg, Husserl writes, 'In this conflict, they [young Germans] went to fight in a Fichtean spirit, considering it a holy war, and to offer themselves wholeheartedly in sacrifice to the homeland'. (trans. by me from a French translation of the original German in Marc de Launay's 'Professorenkriegsliteratur' Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale, no. 3 [2001]: 83-100 [at 96, n. 47])

March 17: Apollinaire receives a head wound from shrapnel, from which he never recovered. He died in 1918.

 March 20: From Siegfried Sassoon's letter to Edward Dent:
On 18 March 1916 David Thomas was wounded in the jaw and died the same evening, aged 20: ‘an artery went, & he was choked,—drowned in his own blood....When the parson had finished (& the machine-guns kept making his words inaudible) a big thing fell about 150 yds away & burst with a final smash. And so my Tommy went away, happy and stainless.
-Shortly afterwards, Sassoon writes the poem 'Golgotha'.
March 23: Wittgenstein receives orders that transfer him to the eastern front; he takes with him a copy of the Brothers Karamazov. His diary entry for April 6 is 'Life is one'.

March 24: Spanish composer Enrique Granados Campiña is killed when his ship is sunk by a U-boat.

Late MarchEugene Bullard is seriously injured at the Battle of Verdun. Though American, he had joined the French forces. He was the first African-American military pilot, and he later worked as a club owner and as Louis Armstrong's French interpreter.

Christopher Eccleston reading Wilfred Owen's 'Dulce Et Decorum Est':

Also in March: Arthur Graham West writes a poem called 'Night Patrol'.

April 3Ernst Toller suffers from shell-shock and is removed from the front at the Battle of Verdun. On April 29, at a hospital near Strasbourg, he is diagnosed as having suffered a complete nervous collapse and is removed from active service. (F. S. L. Schouten, Ernst Toller: an intellectual youth biography, 1893-1918, Ph.D. dissertation, 2007, pp. 108-110)

April 10: After meeting with David Lloyd-George (then Minister of Munitions), Bertrand Russell writes (in a letter to Lady Ottoline Morrell) that Lloyd-George 'was very unsatisfactory & I think only wanted to exercise his skill in trying to start a process of bargaining.' On April 25, Russell reports to Morrell that
I got the impression that Ll. George expects the war to go on for a long time yet; also that he thinks the whole situation very black. He seemed quite heartless. 
Lloyd George had invited Russell and other members of the No-Conscription Fellowship to meet and discuss the situation of conscientious objectors, some of whom were in a legal position no different from that of deserters (who could be shot).

April 22: Siegfried Sassoon writes a poem called 'Stand-to: Good-Friday morning'.

April 24-30: Lenin attends a conference of the International Socialist Commission in Kienthal, Switzerland.

April 28: In a performance at the Bürgertheater in Vienna, Austrian troops on leave re-enact the March 21st Battle of Uscieczko, which they lost to the Russians. Karl Kraus pillories the event in Die Fackel:
As those up there knelt down to pray before the audience, and as those up there saluted, and the vermin down below cheered them and sang patriotic songs, and stood there side by side in their top hats and tails, it struck him as the most terrible of all contrasts, like an infernal battle between the glory of God and the arguments of the devil, and the anguish for a delirious humanity, mocking its own sacrifice.
Audio of Kraus reading from 'Die letzten Tage der Menschheit'; and of Kraus reading a passage about Verdun.

May11: Physicist Karl Schwarzschild dies from an illness that he caught while serving on the Russian front. Albert Einstein is critical of Schwarzschild for having joined the war effort. In a letter to Michele Besso (on May 14), Einstein writes: 'Schwarzchild ... is a real loss. He would have been a gem, had he been as decent as he was clever.' (quoted from Thomas Levenson, Einstein in Berlin [Bantam Books, 2003], p. 130)

May 12: After meeting with Prime Minister Asquith (on May 11), Bertrand Russell reports to Ottoline Morrell that he is 'immensely encouraged'. Asquith was 'very sympathetic' and seemed 'prepared to exert himself to prevent C. O.'s being shot'. On May 12, Asquith sends a note to General Haig, instructing him not to have conscientious objectors shot for disobeying orders.

May 16: Karl Planck (son of Max Planck) is killed at the Battle of Verdun.

May: Edmund Blunden arrives in France as part of the 11th Royal Sussex Battalion.

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