Decimation - A Europe after the French break at Verdun

Nineteen sixteen

My great grandfather always used to say you could never trust a Frenchman, though he tended to be a bit courser than that after five pints. Bloody frogs, he would shout, stinking runaway cowards. Of course, being five or six at the time, I never really understood what he meant, just that he thought all Frenchmen cowards. I suppose it is only really now that I get his sentiments, my own dad allowing me access to his grandfather's war diaries. Pages January first nineteen sixteen through to July twenty ninth read like it was all a great game, even in the spring mud and exploding shells. July thirtieth, well even the thickest kid in my history class knows about July thirtieth nineteen sixteen.

What the hell just happened? One minute we're on alert, expecting a bosch barrage, the next, Freddie is running down the line as fast as his bleedin' legs will carry him to the Captain. He only fucking goes and tells him that the Bosch has rolled up the frogs at Verdun. Fuck. Next thing we know the whole bloody regiment is stood to by the next runner down the line. The whole fucking night we stood there. Fucking freezing.

Tucked inside the back cover was a picture of his company, black and white smiles with grim looks behind the eyes. On the back the date scrawled in teenage handwriting, last of the likely lads, 2nd company 1st West Yorkshire, 02.10.1916. I must have stared at that image for hours, trying to fathom what they must have been thinking. Of course Britain had technically not been beaten, hell the ceasefire was only two days old, but even so, how must the boys in France been feeling? Mr Bates showed us the grainy silent film of the signing of the peace treaty between Germany and the Entente, of musty old men standing around waiting for something to happy in a train carriage. He also showed us the 1957 Hollywood version, Decimation, with Kurt Douglas in the lead role. That shook me up as a fifteen year old, seeing what by all accounts was a genuine portrayal of the French flight from the heights of Verdun in the early summer of nineteen sixteen.

“Too much has happened. Someone's got to be hurt. The only question is who. General Joffre's assault on the Ant Hill failed. His order to fire on his own troops was refused. But his attempt to murder three innocent men to protect his own reputation will be prevented by the General Staff. No matter the outcome of this war, this court martial is a stain on the honour of France. It is the General Staff who should be on trial, not these men!”

In a later lesson he showed us in a graph that would come back time and time again in my research the cost to the French army of loosing Verdun. Unlike in nineteen fourteen, when the French had heroically stood their ground eighteen miles short of Paris, in the summer of nineteen sixteen the French Army did not simply have the willpower to stand against the German advance. The graph showed the staggering number of Frenchmen who either deserted or surrendered en mass to the Germans without firing a shot. A second graph, far more brutal than simple numbers, showed the French high command's crackdown. Decimation of every regiment that mutinied, in the literal sense. Over ten thousand soldiers died in seven days of purges, which only stopped when orders came down from Paris to halt the bloodshed in the face of the swiftness of the German advance. Jacques Mordal left an indelible mark on me with his bloody history of nineteen sixteen when I read it at university.

Somewhere in the fields of Chattancourt and Esnes France lost her honour. Unlike Sedan, where the Emperor surrendered with as much grace as he could muster, Joffre panicked and turned on his own men to hide his shame. Such was the barbarity of his subsistent actions that it was a wonder there was a sane man left in the whole French army. As for those who mutinied in the face of such actions, posterity has not judged them too harshly.

In my teenage eyes I never understood why the French ran, surely one last stand would have drained the impetus from the German assault. That was before I read Eric Hobsbawm's comments:

I have never tried to diminish the appalling things that happened in France, though the sheer extent of the massacres we didn't realise. In the early days we knew a new world was being born amid blood and tears and horror: revolution, civil war, famine—we knew of the Burgundian famine of the early '20s, if not the early '30s. Thanks to the breakdown of the western front, we had the illusion that even this brutal, experimental, system had to work better. The French soldiers at Verdun lost faith in their senior officers, who's callousness and disregard led to the breakdown of order. Burgundy was the end result.

What was also later revealed when the British government unsealed its war records in 1956 was how close the British had come to launching an offensive on the Somme in July nineteen sixteen. Most military historians since believed that such an assault would only have delayed the inevitable, and by not launching that offensive, which would have happened in August nineteen sixteen if General Hague had his way, the British ensured they had enough troops ready to prevent a total German victory on the western front. Gilbert Frankau would immortalise those uncertain days in his book A Still Wind Blows.

Raging tommys, all of us, stood up, stood down, fear running through us as electric as the summer thunderstorms raging overhead. Not one bullet fired in anger at the enemy, knowing in our hearts we could have stopped the rot. Damn them was the watch words of the day, damn the French for being spineless in the face of danger. Now look at us, stood down one last time. Are we the cowards?

The more I read of his work, the more I felt the anger of the common solder. The French had stabbed us in the back, or so it seemed at the time, yet by some small miracle the Germans did not have enough fight left in them to truly finish things off. As with earlier wars, it was the unglamourous affairs of supplies that found the Germans out. That, and the death of Crown Prince Wilhelm on the morning of September eighth at the hands of a French sniper. They called it the shot that broke a million hearts, such was the effect it had on the German people. While the French were in disarray, their enemy mourned, the sting taken out of their tale. When it became clear to the German high command that they would probably run out of supplies forty or fifty miles short of Paris, they looked for options to extricate themselves in an honourable fashion. Max Hastings put it better than most.

The front is no longer measured by meters but by corpses. Southern France is no longer countryside. By day it is an enormous cloud of burning, blinding smoke; it is a vast furnace lit by the reflection of the flames. And when night arrives, one of those scorching howling bleeding nights, the dogs plunge into the rivers and swim desperately to gain the other bank away from the German advance. The nights in France are a terror for them. Animals flee this hell; the hardest stones cannot bear it for long; only men endure, but for not much longer.

A large folio of images was collected after the war and civil war finished, and dad gave me a copy of it to me for my nineteenth birthday. Utter devastation ran from the Isle de France down to the Mediterranean, it was little wonder that France fell apart in the face of such barbarity. The Italian airship pilot who flew the balloon with the photographer refused to land when asked to, even though two years on from the worst of the atrocities. He knew the part his countrymen had played in the last days of the war, reigning terror on southern France with a lightening Italian raid for land before any treaty could be signed. Then there was the recriminations. Burgundian vice-president Marcel Cashin recalled them in his memoirs published in 1949.

There is no man, however wise, who has not at some period of his youth said things, or lived in a way the consciousness of which is so unpleasant to him in later life that he would gladly, if he could, expunge it from his memory. Proust had it right. Many things in 1916 were unpleasant, but they had to be done. We could not simply allow the France that we wished to build fall into the hands of those who wished to destroy it. Part of me regrets our actions, but for the greater good they were necessary.

Another photograph in the diary shows my great grandfather with a tricoolour burning. On closer inspection I found it to be a tricolour of the French socialists who he was sent to fight after the ceasefire was signed. In a move of sheer desperation the French government signed a white peace with the French, conceding that all territory won in 1871 would remain forever German, recognising the right of the German government to exercise control over current held territory until it was stabilised, and finally agreeing to annul their treaty with Russia. His passage for ninth October was short and to the point.

What fucking joke. French soldiers streamed past us on the way to their internment, sorriest sons of bitches I ever saw. Glad to be back somewhere warm, Mabel's letter arrived, and glad to see she's safe, though given state of things don't know when I'll see her next.

Beneath the diary was his scrap book, which gave me a fuller understanding of his life around this time. On my first visit to Paris I made sure to visit the Louvre, as one of the souvenirs he kept was a flyer for the triumphant return of King Phillipe VIII on the twentieth October nineteen sixteen. With the embers of civil war fermenting in the south of the country, and the third republic collapsing in on itself with one final vote of no confidence on the sixteenth October, the King saw it as the right moment to step in and take control of the situation. Historians have argued ever since if this was the right move, as many theorised that it was the singular even that pushed the socialists and communists in the south to formally break with what they saw as a reactionary threat to the whole Republic. John Lewis Gaddis made clear the prevailing view during my time at university.

In many respects Phillipe saved France. Without him it would have been likely that France would have become a rump state at the mercy of both Germany and Britain, but the cost was too much in many eyes. The break away of the Burgundian Soviet Socialist Republic in October 1916 was the start point sixty years of communist dominion over the body politic of Europe. Even the Germans, while celebrating their victory, had no stomach for a guerilla war in a devastated land. With merely a sop to the nationalists in their own governments, the Germans and British fought a containing war into the weary dregs of 1917, with only the threat of famine and blockade bringing the communists to the table. Their demand for a Republican France were met with silence from the new masters in Paris, and I wonder to this day what would have been the outcome had Philipe allowed himself to become a mere President. On such decisions history is made.

While it was tempting to try to get a visa to visit the BSSR prior to the Provence spring, I had to content myself with my research into its inception. Provence, the Rhone, Franche-Comte, half of Bourgogne, and a small part of Auvergne formed the core of the BSSR, with Marseille the de facto, and later official, capital. Best on all sides by enemies, the leadership fought what came to be recognised as one of the defining guerilla campaigns of the twentieth century. A faded cloth flag in the scrap book shows the patch given to British soldiers fighting for the Bourbon French forces, nicknamed the whites, and next to it my great grandfather pinned a note.

I damned well earned this fighting those commie bastards. If those frogs had fought half as well against the Bosch we would not have been slogging our guts out chasing shadows.

When I finally did manage to visit Marseille, I made sure to get my picture next to the iconic statue of Leon Trotsky, whose inspirational leadership of the red faction during the war was a beacon to all leftists in the years to come. No-one knows for sure when he returned to Burgundy from Spain in the tail end of nineteen sixteen, but most autobiographers believe it was around the time of the Italian advance on Nice in early November. Robert Service's seminal autobiography recounts the Burgundian reaction to Trotsky's tactics.

At first they were horrified, nothing they had seen in the last two years of war could tally with what he was proposing, scorched earth, retaliation, barbaric treatment of those who would not aid them. But it worked. It was the right approach at the right moment. A lesser man would have baulked at the idea of what needed to be done, but in the face of the White armies rapid advances, Trotsky's was the only plan that could work. And it did. Ninety years on, and the Burgundian Republic owes its very existence to Trotsky. To put it into perspective, I strongly believe that if the Red army in Russia had been led by Trotsky, it would have put the Monarchist forces to flight.

Marseille was not what I expected. This was the place that for the three months to the end of nineteen sixteen, and the beginning of the year after the world held its breath over. I expected to see brutalist buildings, propaganda to the worker, statues to Marx, yet all I found was a gentle mix of French sensibility and experimental twentieth century architecture. The one glaring item missing from the downfall of the BSSR was the imposing hammer and sickle motifs which dominated the front of most public buildings as shown in most books and magazines. On my my second to last day in the city I spent a few hours in the massive war cemetery on the edge of the city. I had been to the ones on the Somme a year earlier, and expected much the same, but here things were different. Unlike the singular cemeteries for each nation in the rest of France, here every soldier was buried as equals, with only a national flag on his tombstone to mark any obvious difference. German next to French next to Italian next to British next to Australian. So many names, so many stones. On the central memorial at the heart of the cemetery, there was a bitter inscription.

Here lie the remains of those who have no name, who fought and died in the hope that freedom would spread what ever its shade or hue in 1916 and 1917. May they rest in peace in the hope that their lives will shine as a beacon to the generations.

Knowing what came next, I shook my head in frustration. Nineteen sixteen saw the end of the western war, and the end of my great grandfather's diary, but nineteen seventeen saw a whole new level of barbarity on the other side of the continent.

Nineteen seventeen

By the time I got to university, there were only a handful of British survivors of the Great War alive. Harry Patch, who I never got to interview, gave this poignant quote near to the end of his life.

When the war ended, I don't know if I was more relieved that we'd won or that I didn't have to go back. Nice was a disastrous battle, thousands and thousands of young lives were lost. It makes me angry. Earlier this year, I went back to Marseilles to shake the hand of Maurice Bernard, Burgundy's only surviving veteran from the war. It was emotional. He is 107. We've had 87 years to think what war is. To me, it's a licence to go out and murder. Why should the British government call me up and take me out to a battlefield to shoot a man I never knew, whose language I couldn't speak? All those lives lost for a war finished over a table. Now what is the sense in that?

Tears filled my eyes as I wandered the cemetery until the sun began to set over the Cote-D'azur. Most of the graves were from the early part of nineteen seventeen, many Germans and Italian. I knew somewhere in amongst them was my great grandfather's brother, Colin, a runner with the 1st Yorkshire, and just before the cemetery closed I found the headstone. My camera only had a few shots left on it, so I made sure to get a good on for my personal album, and I was sure dad would appreciate it. Colin barely got a mention in our family, probably because he was killed before he could marry his sweetheart and have children, but I was able to dig up the mention in dispatches he received for his actions leading up to his death.

Private Thwaits advanced forward of our position to establish where the enemy was positioned on the ridge above St-Laurent-du-Var. Spotting a machine gun nest around the next bend, with great haste he made his way back to my command post, only to be hit by enemy fire as he fell back. With great fortitude he returned to me, delivered his message, though unfortunately succumbed to his wounds shortly there after.

The irony of this was that he was killed days before the British led a general withdrawal back into Nice due to the enemy action in the area. Many have suggested that it was the second Irish uprising in as many years that finally got the British out of France, but personally I think it had more to do with the desire to be done with a bloody war that had no chance of victory. In my great grandfather's scrap book I found his pass home, stamped eighth May nineteen seventeen. As luck would have it, the next day he met my great grandmother at a clearing station in Calais. She was a nurse on her way home on leave, and on the train back up to London something must have clicked as they began courting shortly afterwards. A pile of their letters from before their marriage was tucked under the scrap book. May twenty fifth was a classic example of her understatement when she was sent back to France.

My Darling,

I know that you will be gone for several more weeks, and I curse both the reds and our own Generals for keeping you from me. Since we met my heart has been all aflutter, and knowing that you are safe in England gives me hope that there will be good at the end of this wretched state of affairs I am sure when I return you will keep your promise and take me to Leeds to meet your folks, but in the mean time keep safe.

All my love.

Dr Matthews, my modern history tutor at university, kept making the point that women's suffrage gained more traction from the nurses treating the wounded of Europe than from all the girls turned out in the fields to provide food for a weary nation. I was on the fence, as it was clear that Lloyd George would need extra support in order to remain in power given the down turn in his popularity after the white peace. With many soldiers able to return to work, women grumbled at the lack of opportunity they now faced, and my great grandmother was one of them. Her diary betrayed her anxiety at returning home to a Britain changed by a brutal war.

Everywhere I go in the camp I hear rumours of malcontent, and today I even heard a group of soldiers taking in sympathy for the Reds. Can you believe it? What chance is there for me if the Reds come? I've had my fill of their idea of equality after tending to the wounds of a group of refugees who fled the fighting. The stories they tell are positively shocking.

A postcard in the back of her diary got my attention as it showed Nice before the war. My great grandfather did not speak of what happened over the three months of street fighting that the Reds brought upon the city, but the list of names carved in stone on the city's war memorial was a sobering moment. More German, Italian, French, British, Canadian, and Australian names, and while I have only ever been to Nice once, this was the one memory that stayed with me. Thousands and thousands of names. Too many really to take in, on a scale to rival those in Ypres. In god awful symmetry the first names were listed on twenty first February nineteen seventeen, a year exactly since the battle for Verdun began. Like the cemetery in Marseilles, all names were listed irrespective of nationality, only in the date they fell. One day above all others had the longest list of names, May third nineteen seventeen. The German commander, General Max von Gallwitz, summed it up best in his biography.

Even the worst of the Galician fighting could not prepare me for the spectacle that was the horror of Nice. Give me the wide open plains of the east any day than the accursed Reds and their snipes. May 19th still haunts me, as I should have listened to Mangin and pulled back sooner to the city limits. Never has there been such combat in an urban area in modern times, and if it were not for the fact that we were the last bulwark between the Reds and the test of Europe I would have pulled the whole damn lot of us back sooner. As it was, while I believe with all my heart that we will have to finish the communists off sooner rather than later, it is with a heavy heart that I agree that the Kaiser was right in signing an agreement with the Burgundians to end hostilities.

Not many Germans, Italians, French, or British agreed with his stance at the time, and given the way the wind blew afterwards I doubt there would be much room for agreement even now. Despite my desire to visit the Burgundian Republic after the Provence spring, I knew deep down that this was still a country which suppressed decent, though how much stock I put into all the horror stories I was not sure. One thing was certain, though, and that was the rise of Trotsky to the top of the BSSR. While he was never President or vice-president, his made sure he kept an iron grip on power. Pierre Palmade was expelled from the BSSR ten years ago for cracking a joke about Trotsky.

Trotsky walks into the meeting room and turns to his trusted staff, "I want you to organise the execution of 10,000 Whites and 1 kitten."
Everyone looks around the table and after a long silence, Jaures pipes up, "General, why do you want to kill a kitten?"
Trotsky smiles and turns to the rest of the table, "You see, no one cares about the Whites."

My heart skipped a beat when I entered Italy for the first time, and saw the large memorial to the lost a hundred metres down the road. Every text book I read at school shows the exact same picture, the site of the biggest refugee camp Europe had ever seen, and a place where tales of the Red's retributions against anyone disloyal came to the fore. Fully twenty million people lived in the BSSR at the end of hostilities, many refugees, and while the Nationalist's propaganda significantly inflated the figure, my research indicated fully five hundred thousand people died or were imprisoned during the Red terror. My great grandmother helped deal with many of the victims who passed through her clearing station on their way into the new Kingdom of France. Her last letter home before she returned for good gave a sense at her despair.


You know my heart grows heavy for you, and the last three months have been a real burden on my soul. Only yesterday was I called upon to look after three orphaned girls who's father and three brothers had been shot by the communists. The look in their eyes when I told them their mother had died the night before broke my heart. What has the world come to when we are leaving children without their parents?

I hope you are safe and well, and that I am able to return home before your next posting.

Yours always.

My great grandmother was witnessing first hand the start of the next big threat to Europe, Burgundian Influenza. The summer of nineteen seventeen saw the heaviest fighting on the eastern front as the Germans massed their whole army to defeat the Russians. Unlike the French, who had at least given the Germans a good defence for two years, the Russians were put to flight in less than six months of concerted fighting after the withdrawal from Burgundy. Simon Sharma, in his epic history of the British Empire, gave this indictment to the flu.

The seething mass of refugees spread out across Europe after the two treaties were signed, ending up in camps huddled together against the bitterest winter in memory. The camps became a breeding ground for disease, and somewhere on the edge of the BSSR, the Burgundian Flu mutated into existence. Its arrival in Britain via returning troops who gave aid to the refugees was at first un-noticed, but by the end of nineteen seventeen over four hundred thousand people had fallen sick, with mainly the fit and healthy being the worst effected. By the time it died back in the spring of nineteen eighteen, more people had died from disease than had been killed in the two years of war.

My travel through the Kingdom of Italy brought me to more memorials, shrines to the dead, and to the ghost town of Vallebona nestled in the hills above the Italian/Burgundian border. In my guidebook it sums the town up with a few lines.

Prior to the Great War, Vallebona was a bustling village with a rich history of growing fresh produce sold in the markets at towns nearby. During the Burgundian war of 1916/17 the village was raided numerous times by communist forces, leaving many of the men dead. The outbreak of Burgundian flu at the refugee camp near the border infected the village, and many of the remaining inhabitants left in order to get treatment and sanctuary. Only the sick and infirm remained, and due to the high death rate due to malnutrition no villager returned after the flu retreated. The village was left in its current state as a memorial to all those who died in Italy.

As I walked through the well tended empty streets, I stumbled upon the Kingdom of France's memorial to the departed. Many of my fellow students in my third year French history class were of the opinion that King Phillipe was the biggest idiot of the twentieth century, and I was loathe to disagree, but touches like this memorial, which he personally unveiled in nineteen twenty, made me believe that he was not just the bystander as the chaos of Europe unfolded around him. Ramsay Weston Phipps commented during his research into the Napoleonic wars that Phillipe's deft touch with the Generals of France was much the same as Napoleon's with his Marshals.

I am convinced that while King Phillipe will go down in history under a cloud of controversy due to his actions in 1916, it is clear from his dealings with the army that his has a deft touch. To bring order to the chaos that was the last days of the Republic, to stop the army from outright mutinying and joining the Communists, and then to set up a stable country in the rump that was France is testament to his strength of will. I doubt Napoleon would have been able to do much better given the circumstances.

Much research has been carried out into the King's role on what occurred in Vienna towards the end of Nineteen Seventeen, but given that it was a French secret service agent who stopped the assassination of the Austrian Emperor it is doubtful the King was kept out of the loop. I spent most of my second year at university wading through letters from Austrian soldiers trying to get a grip on their feelings for my second year major work, though my rusty German made for some interesting mistranslations. There seemed to have been a sincere belief that with the defeat of Russia and France that Austria would go back to being the dominant force in southern Europe. In a letter released in 1970 from the Papal archives at his beatification, Emperor Charles I writes of his fervent belief that God's grace has prevailed in the war.

To his holiness the Pope Benedictus Quintus Decimus,

It is with deepest humility that We give praise to the Lord God in heaven for saving Our great nation from the turmoils of the recent war. We ask, holy father, that you intercede on Our behalf for the safe deliverance through the struggles that are surely ahead, lest Our faith be seen as weak and wavering. We also ask that you bless Us in our current tribulations, and keep Us from straying from the path of rightousness.

Your eternal servent,

Not that the various political factions within his empire paid his faith any attention. He had barely been the on the throne six months when the Hungarian parliament demanded further concessions from him, which set off a domino effect among the rest of the ethnic groups within the Empire. The letters from Austian troops in demarcation camps change tone from happiness at going home, to fear and loathing of the central government. In Berlin the Kaiser was still in mourning for his son, leaving the German Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg to steer the ship of state. Combined with the punitive treaty signed by the Russian government sparking unrest in the Ukraine and Poland, all it took was one spark to cause the Austo-Hungarian, German, and Russian governments to fall. John De Coucey gave a scathing remark on the match that sparked a central European implosion.

If you had asked any man in the street in October 1916 which side had won the war the answer was obviously Germany, come January 1918 the answer was far less certain. If any one man has to pinpointed for bringing down the central powers, Michael Collins would be high on my list. His meeting with Prince Joachim of Prussia in November 1917 was tantamount to a renewal of hostilities between Britain and Germany, as Britain could hardly stand idally by and watch a German prince take over the crown of Ireland. How much stock you put in how credible this offer actually was is a moot point, as the end result was a British refusal to get involved in restoring order in central Europe. I have long contended that had that meeting not take place at that precise point, then the face of European history, if not global history, would have been different. If but for the want of a horse.

My Great Grandfather was not demobilised in nineteen seventeen unlike most of his pals. His regiment was sent to Ireland in the October to deal with the fermenting troubles, with home rule very much on the table in parliament. A photograph of the bombed out post office building was stuck grimly along side a stub for The Bad Boy, a Robert Harror flick he briefly mentioned in his diary as the first film he has seen in a good while. His time in Ireland was brief due to his regiment being recalled to France to serve on the border when the balloon went up following the assassination attempt on Charles I, and the Austro-Hungarian army split into competing factions for control of the country. The history books tell that British interests in the Mediterranean were threatened by the chaos sweeping the Balkens, and eger to avoid any rogue elements gaining control of Greece or the Agean, they sent a fleet to Malta. What they don't tell is just on how much a knife edge Britain was from plunging back into a pan-European war. Churchill wrote to the Prime Minster pushing for a counter to any Red threat to the established order.

I implore that you bring to the House's attention the need to deploy troops to protect not only our national interests, but the interests of wider freedom. Surely the communist threat is too great to ignore, the demands of liberty a clarion call to answer in our neighbours time of need. You have seen the reports of Trotsky sending agents to Vienna, the French King stepping to prevent the attack being a success, but those same agents have infiltrated the Austrian army in alarming numbers. Let our troops do more than watch, otherwise we will have another Burgundy on our hands.

No-one in London had all the facts, and I sincerely doubt anyone involved had the whole picture. My travels through Italy brought me to Milan, and face-to-face with another war memorial marked with the names of those who gave their lives. This time they were given in defense of liberty, Italian blood spilt protecting the refugees of the worst crisis to hit Europe since the French revolution. Archbishop of Canterbury Randall Davidson gave an emotional plea during his Christmas day service.

I implore all good Christians no matter what creed to heed the words of the Lord, and turn swords into plow shares. For too long the people of Europe have suffered, and in this time of crisis strong moral leadership is required. Let us be Christlike in our humility, charitable in our hearts, and show mercy to those who have agreived us. Let the Lord show us the way, and let the leaders of all nations come together and build a lasting peace. This we pray.

My arrival at the Austrian border was met with trepidation on my part. For all the bloody battles on the western front, even the purges carried out in Burgundy, the scholar inside of me ached at the thought of what occurred in the lands across the borders a hundred years ago. What disease, famine, and depredation did not wipe out, the ethnic cleansing of vast areas of the Austo-Hungarian empire did. Not all rumours are false, but for once I wish that the rumours that started to come out of Austria-Hungary in last days of nineteen seventeen were false. History, of course, would prove them right, and as I drove into Austria I let myself cry at the thought of all the horrific stories I have read of the Austro-Hungarian war.


You mentioned TTL's version of the 'Paths Of Glory' film.

Well, I'm as depressed now as I was the first time I saw that, and I'll probably need a little walk round the heath now, if I'm to get any sleep tonight.

That's the best way I can think of to explain how good this piece is, well done.
This is one of the most finely crafted and well told TLs I've seen on this board in a very long time. Please continue.
Winter/Spring Nineteen Eighteen

I stopped overnight in Innsbruck, taking my time in the morning to visit the Tyrol museum opened a couple of years back dedicated to exploring the history of the region. Though the German government and various charities has spent lavishly to make the exhibits relevant, I could not sake the feeling that it was all mere tokenism given the enormity of what happened in nineteen eighteen. Charles I in particular was conspicuous by his absence, with only one photograph of him tucked away in a corner. Underneath was a brief description of his hand in the events that shook apart his Empire.

Charles issued a proclamation on January 2nd 1918 in both nations he ruled that the continuing happiness and welfare of his subjects was his overriding concern and he therefore saw no option but to allow the army to intervene directly to stop the Empire collapsing.

Back at the hotel that evening I read through the scrapbook, and found a cutting from a The Daily Mail editorial detailing the emergency session of both houses of Parliament on January fifth nineteen eighteen which resulted in the United Kingdom Integrity Act (1918), which came to be known as the Lloyd George declaration. Lloyd George reacted in the face of the Irish Republicans meeting with Prince Joachim, and also in the later revealed knowledge that the BSSR had sent agitators to Birmingham and Tyneside. The Liberals managed to force through the Act, which was a free vote, in the face of increasing opposition from anti-Communist MPs on both sides of the house. After three years of war, the majority of MPs listened to public opinion that non-intervention in countries which threatened Britain’s integrity was the best foot forward.

Everyone knew this was about Ireland, given that the wording of the Act explicitly states that the existing borders of the United Kingdom are sacrosanct, and any foreign parties who try to meddle with those borders will be treated as hostile to sovereignty of the British nation, and will not receive material aid for a period of five years after sanctions are imposed. What effect this will have on the current state of affairs in Austria-Hungary is not obvious, though given that Churchill is chomping at the bit to deal with the Communists, I think it will only be a matter of time before more British blood is split defending what is just and free.

My third year spring break was spent reading biographies of the key players in nineteen eighteen, as I wanted to get a handle on what happened in the first half of the year. After the vote passed, Churchill demanded another vote on sending troops to the Adriatic, which Lloyd George promised him after the weekend, though events lept ahead faster than either of them anticipated. Shamus Heaney, in his biography of Michael Collins, made it clear that the Irish should not be blamed for the nineteen eighteen blood letting.

Yes the January seventh bombing of Westminster Abbey was an atrocity, but to accuse the Irish Republicans of distracting the British government at a key point in the growing Austrian débâcle is to miss the point. No number of British soldiers would have been enough, and the evidence is clear that all that would have happened is that all sides would have seen the British as a threat. Collins knew this, and thus he played his last hand with the bombs in London that Sunday.

I remember vividly watching Liam Neeson as Michael Collins in the 1999 film, and the final scenes where Special Branch hunt him down were harrowing. While not shown on film, the knowledge that his death sentence was swiftly carried out stuck at the back of my mind when I read about the lives of the rest of the Republican leadership. Many realised the game was up and either fled to America or sued for peace with the British. A handful, with aid from the BSSR, continued to be a thorn in the side of the British. Father Gerry Adams, leader of the Derry peace activists during the nineteen eighties and nineties, recalled a meeting he had as a teenage seminarian with Michael Collins son about the years after on the run from the authorities.

He said Ma would always have one eye on the door and the other on the thing she was doing. Ever since she was declared a person on interested we had run, from Dublin to Galway to Limerick to the port of Belfast in a desperate bid to keep ahead of the British. His words seethed with anger, and he made it clear that by the time they reached the United States all he wanted to do was get revenge on the British for the death of his father.

History has judged the Irish Republicans as idealistic and chancers, though personally I think if the Great War had not happened then the Home Rule Act would have come into force without any bloodshed. As is, I was glad when the Queen gave her royal assent to the Irish Devolution Act in nineteen ninety seven. A handful of surviving Republican veterans from nineteen eighteen were present, and while Father Adams gave the key note speech, it was Duncan McGuiness’ address that stuck in my mind.

I stand here today a proud Irishman, proud to finally say that we have voice in our own affairs. After all the pain and suffering we have endured, all I ask is that we are allowed to continue our own course without further interference from London. Our struggles have been long, but at last we are free to walk our own path. Michael and Eamon would have been proud to stand here with us today.

The morning I was due to check out of the hotel, I received an email from dad with news that my grandfather had been taken ill. Memories of my great grandfather’s illness, and subsequent death, came to mind, and it made me all the more determined to press on with my travels across Europe. Another email I received that morning was from one of my students asking for advice on their own research into the German involvement in nineteen eighteen.

I’ve been reading through the autobiography of the Kaiser you lent me, and I’m struggling to understand why he did not personally intervene until mid-May. I mean, honestly, surely the Germans would have seen the mess the Austrians were getting into and stepped in to help them?
Any advice would be appreciated.

My reply would have to wait till that evening. Summer in the Tyrol is one of the most beautiful things I have ever experienced, the alpine passes bathed in sunlight, green meadows stretching down into the wide plains below. Yet while I could appreciate the spectacle, my attention was on far darker matters as I drove through the pass towards Mayrhofen. Unlike the atrocities that concurrently occurred elsewhere in Eastern Europe, this only came to light when workmen digging a telephone trench stumbled on a mass grave six years ago. Fourteen hundred plus bodies had been identified by the League of Nations officials, a mix of ages and genders. Reading through all the newspaper articles when the news broke, The Times summed it up best for me.

Ninety years on the horrors of 1918 to 1922 are still coming to light. Today the League of Nations announced the discovery of several mass graves in the Tyrol region of Germany, most likely the victims were killed in the early days of the ethnic cleansing that gripped the Austria-Hungarian Empire prior to the German and French intervention. Samples have been sent to laboratories in Britain and the United States for independent testing in order to establish the victims identities.

Standing in the middle of the village, I took a deep breath to stop myself feeling sick. Sometimes being an historian has its perks, like the travel, at other times the full weight of the god awful events I study fall on my shoulders. This was one of those moments. Max Hastings’ Apocalypse details those days in minute detail, and even now the rage I felt the first time I read it wells up.

What does it take for neighbours to turn on each other, for blood to flow in streets more used to the house wives clogs? February nineteen eighteen was the beginning of the darkest moment in European history, more so than the brutality shown by the Reds and Whites in their struggles, and even Franco stopped short of genocide. In the freezing long winter of 1918, the snow was stained red with innocence, no-one daring to step into the channel house to stop the slaughter. When the edelweiss final came in late April, the world finally awoke to the horrors.

It was at this point that US President Wilson stepped into the fray with a powerful speak before a joint session of Congress hastily convened to discuss the horrors reported by the flood of refugees fleeing to the Americas. New York became a gigantic clearing house for nearly a million souls in the spring of nineteen eighteen, Austrians, Jews, Hungarians, and every other mix you could imagine. Disney’s An American Tail glosses over most of the horrors, but Fival’s tale of struggle in the face of disaster brought this period home to the younger generations when it was released. Wilson’s speech featured as the coda of the film.

My fellow Americans, I stand here before you a humble servant of the people, asking all of you gathered here to do the right and just thing for all the peoples entering our great nation. We stand as a bastion of liberty and hope in the darkness, and all the peoples of the world flock here for sanctuary in the storm engulfing their homelands. I therefore ask not for bombs or bullets, troops or ships, but for aid and succour for the helpless. I know many of you passionately believe in staying above the fray, but the actions in Austria dictate we must take a stand against such barbarism and tyranny. I therefore ask that you vote in support of the bill before you, to bring an end to the suffering and misery to all those in unrest need of our help.

Bob Dylan’s song Child in our Time captured the relief that the refugees felt when the act passed, knowing full well that they were safe from the bloodiest horrors. Few could have imagined the effect these new citizens would have on American history, as their effect would only be felt decades hence, but when the song came on the radio as I drove towards Vienna, I could not help but smile for the first time in days.

These times they are a changin’
Like a child of Eighteen
Swept up o’ seas of grey
Found once again believin’
Blue sky for once revealed
These times they are a changin’

At the hotel I watched A Ride of White Horses on my laptop, the Pilsudski biopic set between nineteen eighteen and nineteen twenty three during the tumult that was the creation of the Polish-Lithuanian state. George Cloony’s towering performance in the lead role won him many accolades, but none more so than the emotional tears of the last Polish veterans who watched a special screening. The scene where he flees Russian forces as they spread out across the rump of Poland they still controlled, with burning villages lingering in long shots is rightly judged, in my opinion, as one of the best pieces of cinematography in twenty first century cinema. Scorcese’s direction is masterful, and scene where Pilsudski thrashes out the agreement with King

Phillipe is as emotive now as it was then.
Pilsudski: Your Majesty, thank you for seeing me at such a late hour.
Phillipe: On a matter of this importance I it cannot wait. What news do you bring from Poland?
Pilsudski: Nothing good I’m afraid. It’s dire, the whole Russian section of the country is in flames, those bastards are slaughtering anyone who gets in their way.
Phillipe: I’ll convene the Privy Council in the morning, but for now let’s discuss how best to deal with the situation at hand.

Opening a random page of the scrapbook, I found a pressed flower, with a neat inscription from my great grandmother. I always knew that my great great aunt Matilde was not their child, but even so, it was a shock to read below.

She was just a scrap of a girl, her mother having given the last of their food to her several days previously. By the time they both reached the came all they had left to eat was the wild flowers and fresh spring grass. I don't know what possessed me, but out of all the suffering and horrors of that god aweful year, I felt had to do something. Matilde came back to England with me on my return on leave at the end of April, my intention was to see her safe, but, well, event overtook all of us, and she ended up our daughter. I kept this flower she gave me on that first night after her mother died as a reminder never to loose hope.

Another student emailed me to ask if Alain Resnais' documentary Fog and Snow was worth watching for the summer semmester. Now there was a film. Resnais was the first to win the Palm d'Or for a documentary, this film, and I shook my head at the fact I was even asked the question. Every student of mine should watch it, it was on the required list after all, but the fact that it was the first major in-depth French analysis of the events of April nineteen eighteen, with eye witness testemony from all sides, combined with the haunting score by Jean-Claud Annoux, made for an unfortgetable film. While not quite capturing the passion of the original French, Richard Burton's narration added gravitas to the British release.

Four events turned a bloody spring into a reaper's summer. Algeria errupted in ethnic violence out of the Sahara, the Neustadt Workers Collective rose up against the state, American aid started arriving in Brest with a light Marine guard, a cable between Trotsky and Armenian politian Alexander Khatisian, and Charles I being placed under house 'protection' by his General staff. Marshal Pilsudski's arrival in Paris was also cause for great alarm, and the leaking of the British memo to the German Chancellor enacting the provisions of the Integrity Act retrospectively for the Collins meeting caused a storm of constenation in both London and Berlin. Germany was therefore alone in having to deal with the collapse of Austria-Hungary, the Russian state, and her own internal misfortunes. Something had to give.

Max Eastman's The Real Situation in Burgundy gave an idealised version of events facing Trotsky in April nineteen eighteen, though unlike the Kaiser or Lloyd-George it was choice about which fruit to pick. I had plenty of time in my hands in Vienna while I waited for my permission to view the Imperial archives to come through, so I took the time to read that chapter.

In hindsight I think Trotsky would have chosen differently, seeing the famine of '26 the way do do today, but ten years ago the choices were more like picking grapes from the vine. Support the German workers, and tempt them into a union with the BSSR or support the Algerians with the hope that the BSSR would get access to the grain grown along the shores. That Trotsky choose the easier of the paths, and ultimately gain the industrial base of the southern Rhinelands, was typical of his mindset. Shrewd, calculating, and taking what could be won.

On the page marked April fourteenth nineteen eighteen, my great grandfather had talked about missing his sweetheart, and hoping that he would get leave to go back to Paris soon. The fiftheenth was a whole different story.

Fucking hell, all bloody leave cancelled until further notice. Bloody Bosch at it again, and those commie fucking bastards. Fucking frogs. Hope the Germans give the reds a good kicking this time, maybe they'll stay down. Chance would be a good thing.

On the First Yorkshire's memorial website, the role of honour does include Metz nineteen eighteen, with five men listed as casualties, all of them dying to protect the refugees fleeing the advancing Red millitia. Eye witness testimony at the board of inquiry was sealed until 1968, and only unredacted in 1993, and it gave a harrowing account of how the Red millitia opporated. Private Samuel Bates, from Scarborough, gave this testimony.

Willy, Corporal Matthews, stood his ground against the four of them, despeately making sure the last of the women and children were behind the camp's defenses. I don't know how he managed it, but even when they shot him in the knee he still blocked their path to the final stragglers. I know we broke the terms of our agreement with the Commies, but none of us could stand by and see them kill innocent women and children. Willy was done by a bullet t the head just as the last child crossed the border into the camp. We had to make a fighting retreat to recover his body, and that was when I got shot.

Four soldiers were gazetted during their time in France during the peace, and Willy Matthews Victoria Cross citation stands along side that of another Yorkshireman Captain Arthur Burns. Burns was commanding a unit from the Royal Engineers, and on a visit to their museum in Brompton I took the time to study their Burns collection. The Captain won his VC for multiple acts of bravery over the course of April and May nineteen eighteen, notably his disarming of six explosive devices the main bridge over the Rhine while under heavy enemy fire.

For most conspicuous gallantry on active service in northern France. During the pursuit of the enemy following the protection of civilians over the course of April and May 1918, Captain Burns was in command of a section of a Field Company, Sappers and Miners, detailed to accompany the leading mobile troops to clear the road and adjacent areas of mines. For a period of four days and over a distance of 55 miles this officer in the leading carrier led the Column. During this period, he himself detected and personally supervised the clearing of no less than 15 minefields of varying dimensions. Speed being essential, he worked at high pressure from dawn to dusk each day. On two occasions when his lorry was blown up with casualties to others, and on a third occasion when ambushed and under close enemy fire he himself carried straight on with his task. He refused relief when worn out with strain and fatigue and with one eardrum punctured by an explosion, on the grounds that he was now better qualified to continue his task to the end.

By securing the bridge over the Rhine, he was able to provide a free flow for the innocents caught up in the war. His coolness under pressure ensured that the enemy was denied.

In the end the British actions probably saved close to two hundred thousand lives from across the Rhine region, many of them ending up in the relief camps along the road to Brest. My Great Grandfather kept a postcard he picked up in Metz to remind him of the city, and on the back he scrawled a message to my great grandmother.

I hope this reaches you safely in Blightly, will be bloody glad to get away from here. Give my wishes to Mabel if you see her.

Yours devotedly.

His sister, Mabel, probably never saw the card, as by the time it arrived she was in hospital with the flu. All that remained of her memory, aside from her photo album kept hidden in a trunk, was a fading picture of my great grandfather and her just before he went off to war. His wish was granted, though only for the saddest of reasons, and he returned home to attend her funeral on May 3rd nineteen eighteen. An invitation to her wake was glued into his scrap book, a simple affair really, but summed up his love for her. I think my great grandmother may have had a hand in writing it.

My dearest Mabel was the sweetest lark in the meadow, the morning sun to those who met her, and chased all the storm clouds away. A man never had a more loving and devoted sister, and let this wake celebrate her life. Let her loss be remember as we built a brighter tomorrow.

I kept those words in mind as I continued my research for my dissertation. It's easy now to look back on my fanciful ideas about the events of spring nineteen eighteen and see them as nieve, but maybe age has made me too cynical. My access to the Imperial archives arrived by courier, and after checking into my appartment for the next few weeks I made headed over. Not many English speaking accademics have had a chance, or maybe the inclination, to delve too deeply into the Austrian archives, as the Berlin archives house the juicier secrets of the Hohenzollern dynasty, but I was hoping to get a better handle on the last days of the Imperial family, along with disintergration of their Empire. One of the first boxes the archivist handed me contained hundreds of photographs from April and May nineteen eighteen, right on top was a large copy of the infamous image of the newly annoited autocephelous Patriarch of All Bulgaria Vasiliy celebrating an open air mass in Sophia. On the back a secret police officer has scrawl a warning to his superior officers.

I fear this will be the end of us, who knows what the future will have in store for us now.

A copy of the Wiener Zeitung in the hotel ran with a large photograph of the hundred year commemorations in Berlin marking beginning of the German intervention into Austrian affairs. On page seven was a smaller story of the Bulgarian and Romanian Independence day celebrations, the editors obviously still having a nationalistic axe to grind. Personally I think it is churlish to judge the Romanians and Bulgarians harshly, as they were only doing what was best for their people in the face of the barbarism to the north, and given what tomorrow's headlines would probably reflect I don't think there would be any room for news from the black sea. Sure enough, when the morning paper was delivered, the lead editorial by Max Kramer was dedicated to the hundreth anniversary of the murder/execution of Charles I.

Apart from the execution of Maximillian in Mexico, Louis in France, ad Charles' namesake in England, has there ever been such a bitter betrayal of a King or Emperor by his people? History has been a harsh mistress to Charles, and while I must confess to being ambivilent in his hand in the events a hundred years ago, I still find it shocking that the Emperor's own guard would judge and then execute him for crimes against the state. If we are to be honest with ourselves, would we as a nation be happier under a republic, as Renner would have us be, or are we a part of something glorious under our present Kaiser and the greater Germany? As the opinion polls consistently show, most of us are content to be part this whole we find ourselves in, and while we shall of course mourne for our last Emperor, I doubt there is a person among us who would wish for a return to the chaose and anarchy that he unfortunately represented.

On my laptop I played a released version of Charlotte Eisler's great love letter to her homeland that she penned while in excile in Marseilles. As a socialist she fled Vienna in the dead of night on May seventh, the night the Austrian nationalists turned on anyone their suspected of aiding the the enemy. Her voice had a haunting quality to it, even though it was recorded twenty years after.
Let the little flowers fresh grow,
Not let the dark sweep them away.
Shoots so tender in the snow,
My heart aches to leave today.
Show me home to white caps,
Set amidest pines swept sway.
Make my life lead forever back,
Hope not less is never truly grey,
For one last look of strasse I beg.

Take me home back to Vienna...

That the purge of the undesirables went unmentioned and uncommemorated in the papers was not surprising, as Berlin rarely liked to be question on such matters. Everyone knows that the Austrian army summariliy executed a couple of hundred political dissidents on that first night, especially those of Bulgarian or Romanian heritage. Hell, I found a letter from an Austrian Corporal to his friend written in the days after sketching his role in it all.

Dear Johan,

I hope this reaches you well, and your mother is still in good health. I write to inform you that I will not be able to travel with you to the chalais this weekend as the regiment has been put on high alert given the recent events. I must say that I am enjoying taking apart the scum who threaten the state, and I am proud of the role I am playing in defend us all.

How are things with you and Sylvia? I hope Robert is behaving himself. If you need anything please write,

Your friend,

One thing was certain, though, and that was without central leadership in the form of the Emperor, the whole edefiss of state came crashing down around the Austrian's ears. While her work was generally anti-Nationalistic, Margarethe von Trotta's 1981 filmThe German Sisters gave a heartrending account of the daughters of a village priest looking to save their friends and neighbours from being killed by the mob. Stanley Kauffman gave it this review.

Die Bleierne Zeit (German Sisters) is a prime example of the New Burgundian Cinema. The film follows two sisters, both trying to assert their feminism through different means; one writes articles for a magazine in Berlin, the other a member of the resistance in Burgundy. The film deals mainly with the emotional viewpoint of Marianne, the journalist, as she struggles through the aftermath of their shared events during the break-up of Austria in 1918. Typical of a film of this period, the film is often bleak and focuses on building the scene rather than dialogue, drawing the viewer in with emotion, and giving a heightened sense of the despair they felt.

On that note I picked up my laptop and set off once more for the archive. Along the Strasse the German flags fluttered in the breeze, and I wondered what it would have been like back in the days of the Imperial Court. Close to the archives I passed the memorial to Charles, erected twenty years after his death and exoneration by the Kaiser. Did he deserve to die? I honestly did not have an answer, but I was sure his death was the catalyst for change that Marx talked about, another singular event that changed history.


Oh, no no no, you're not getting me like you did last night rej'.
I shall enjoy this 2nd part treat in the morning!
Excellent Time Line! The narrative reminds me of Kaplan's Balkan Ghosts, combining the author's travels with historical commentaries and diary excerpts. consider me subscribed!
Summer Nineteen Eighteen

In the three weeks I have trawled through the archives, I had managed to get a clearer feeling of the panic which had gripped Austria in May/June nineteen eighteen. Nationalist soldiers loyal to only their generals held most of Austria, while Bohemia, Galicia, Moravia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Slovakia were all in a state of revolt against the rump government. The official Hungarian declaration of independence on June second nineteen eighteen was lamented in a Manchester Guardian leader.

That this was going to happen was obvious, but for it to come at such a time as this is more the pity. While it is understood that the Hungarian government have no legal authority to intervene in its partner state, many of us would have hoped that they would have found the moral authority to intervene.

From the records this only spurred the worst of the atrocities across the rest of the former Empire, as all Hungarian troops serving with the Imperial army left their units and returned home on the explicit orders of their government. The new German Chancellor Prince Maximilian of Baden gave an inaugural speech before a packed Reichtag, and while he was not in the same league as Bismark, unlike the previous generation there was a genuine belief amongst the gathered reporters that Germany was turning away from its belligerent reputation.

My fellow Germans,

I take upon my shoulders the great mantle of state with a genuine desire to see peace across Europe. We are victorious, our cause proven and just, and while we mourn our dead, we must also look to the future prosperity that is within our grasp. I pledge to stamp out the Communist threat wherever it rears its head, and give my word that Germany will not stand ideally by as our brothers in arms in Austria suffer the same fate as the French.

The prince was a neutral political figure, appointed by the Kaiser to bring stability to an increasingly polarised German political arena. On the French/German border, my great grandfather noted the change in leadership in his diary.

Like rearranging the deckchairs on the bleeding Titanic if you ask me. Bloody commies still at it, giving us no end of grief, and when Jenkins bought it last night it was the last straw for me. Why the fuck are we still here? I just want to get home.

One of my most interesting finds was an Austrian copy of the minutes from the Potsdam Conference called on ninth June. The Austrian delegates had demanded to be included, as Maximilian had hastily arranged it without their prior approval. France, Britain, Germany, Pilsudski’s newly formed Polish government-in-exile, Hungary, and the United States ambassador in Berlin all attended, with Belgian and Danish representatives joining on the second day. Annotated at the bottom were notes from the Austrian ambassador.

I loathe the British attitude; it is like they act as if they won the war. Honestly, in all my time in Berlin I have never seen a more pompous group of men lording it over the rest of us. If it were not for our present straits I would walk out. Even the Americans are being more helpful. Damn Churchill and his bullies.

One supposes Churchill was trying to keep the British end up, but even with the benefit of hindsight it was obvious he was being incredibly blinkered about seeing the whole meeting as the nation States verses the communists. In the end he only ended up isolating Britain from the general consensus, which was to actively press to end the socialist threat in central Europe, as opposed to Churchill’s desire to see an end to all extremist actions. Tony Ben’s seminal autobiography of Churchill, updated with newly released material under the Official Secrets Act, give a glimpse into Churchill’s mind.

In the dark days after Verdun, and with his position at the Admiralty under threat, Churchill looked for ways to which project British influence once more on the continent, and help raise his own profile within the Liberal party. He loathed the communists as weak minded fools who sought to bring anarchy and chaos, but he also saw, with a unique eye in those dire times, that the nationalist factions would pose just as much threat to national integrity as the Reds. While he begrudgingly signed the concordat drafted by all delegates on the third day, he made sure that the protocols of the Integrity Act were followed to the letter. Almost immediately he signalled the Admiralty and ordered a squadron sail from Malta to blockade the Burgundian coast.

My great grandfather recorded vividly the morning of June eleventh as the survivors of the British forces in Strasbourg returned into Metz down the Courcelles Chaussy, having made a fighting retreat over the last two nights.

I stood watch hoping to see one more lad come down the road, and after watch ended I ran to get the news. Fucking commies, Red bastards, killing us in cold blood. Churchill has a lot to fucking answer for. Protecting civilians my arse.

Osprey produced an overarching guide to the campaign that followed the signing of the concordat, with full battle plans, detailed descriptions of the engagements between the Reds and the Whites, and it went straight on to my must read list for my students when it was published two years ago. The first battle it details is the Freikorps attempt to dislodge the communist forces from Frankfurt.

German regular forces were tied up fighting the main wing of the Red army, mainly former French army soldiers with units from Germany and Austria who had switched sides earlier in the year. International volunteers from Britain, America, Spain, and Italy amongst others had poured in to reinforce the workers states established in the lower Rhineland, and while they were not as effective as the regular forces, they still tied down reinforcements that could have been used to fight the Red army. The fighting in and around Frankfurt took on an intensity born of ideological pride, with neither side giving quarter. The Freikorps had the edge on training, with the majority being former soldiers, but with Red army putting the city under blockade from the north on the twentieth June after fighting the German army to a stalemate at the battle of Geinhausen the supplies to the Nationalist forces began to dwindle over the next two weeks. Only a desperate feint towards Darmstadt by the German army on the twenty eighth June, and the threat of being cut off from their main supply line over the Rhine at Mainz, broke the strangle hold on northern supply lines as troops were pulled south. The cost to both sides in terms of men and material was high, and on July twelfth Trotsky ordered all Red forces to pull back over the Rhine and blow the bridges in Mainz, Worms, and Mannheim, effectively cutting the southern Rhineland off from the rest of Germany.

More than one of my students have written essays on the Rhineland campaign for their third year dissertations, and most come to the conclusion that Trotsky was some military genius who defeated a superior enemy. Only the more perceptive grasp that he was facing an enemy ground down by two years of war, fully a quarter of its troops disserting, mutinying, or injured, and growing realisation within the high command that the Red faction in the west was not the biggest threat to German. Yes the loss of the lower Rhineland and Alsace-Lorraine was a body blow to German pride, which would fester for many years to come, but by containing the Reds on the west bank of the Rhine the Germans had an effective natural barrier to defend. Erich Ludendorff’s autobiography gives a vivid account of the climactic battle of Morbach which finally halted the Red advance north along the western bank of the Rhine.

It took everything I had to bring a decent force to bear on the enemy, and if it had not been for Foch’s forced march through Luxemburg with the remainder of the French second division I doubt we would have had enough me to hold the Burgundian forces. After Verdun, I consider the defence of Morbach, and the establishment of the Ludendorff line as my single greatest achievement. I understand why my fellow Germans believe that the army failed them which the loss of the lower Rhineland, and I assure them that German will recover her losses, but without the tenacity of my brave boys we could have lost the entire west bank of the Rhine, along with Belgium and the Netherlands, to the communists. News that the French had halted the Reds south of Metz, with the help of British, enabled us to consolidate our positions, as the Reds now had to either dig in or race back and defend their gains. Trotsky, the old bastard that he is, choice to dig in, and I thanked God that there was no rain to turn the plains to mud.

John Reed’s book The Bankers War, gave his account of the Red march from Marseille to Perpignan in the heat of the early summer from June sixth to June fourteenth nineteen eighteen.

Louise was so worried for me, saying that I should stay in Marseille and get cables, but I had to see firsthand how the radicalised Frenchmen would treat the citizens. Honestly, after the horror stories I have heard of the purges to the north, I hope that the advance is honest and orderly.

The Burgundian march was met with little hostility, as Royalist French forces were mainly tied up in the north around Metz, and their arrival into Perpignan was greeted with muted approval by the socialist mayor of the town. Reed sums it up rather coolly.

Is it treason to welcome with a kiss on each cheek the men who would seek to overturn the old ways? Is this how it felt to be a part of the 1781 revolution marching to the sound of the drum of liberty? These men clearly understand that to fight progress is to invite disaster, and I would have no pity for them if they had.

Even with all the studies I have done into the two years since Verdun, I still find it hard to get to grips with the enormity of the chaos surrounding the events of April to August nineteen eighteen. The BSSR were now seen as treaty breakers, Trotsky as public enemy number one, and while the BSSR’s newly established cabinet set on trying to establish Burgundy as a legitimate country, they were constantly undermined by Trotsy’s desire to export the revolution. Having said that, as he was the face of the enemy this served to deflect attention away from the other French communists who had got into bed with him. That the BSSR was now in full control of the French Mediterranean was a body blow to Paris and King Phillipe, with Le Monde’s front page a picture of liberty holding her head in shame.

Is this what our great nation has been brought to? Have we not the stomach to fight the tyranny of the Red threat to our soil, to push the communists back into the sea, to show the Russian devil that the men of France are loyal to each other and the King? Have a backbone, fight for liberty, fraternity, and egality, but most of all fight for freedom.

The irony of this editorial was not lost on most Parisians went news reached Paris that evening of the Marine Nationale mutiny at Montpelier in the face of the communist forces taking the city, with four of the dreadnoughts and their squadrons declaring for the BSSR. Henri-Georges Clouzot's 1956 masterpiece Battleship Courbet dramatised the resulting battle between the loyalist French naval ships and the mutineers. The Guardian describes the film in its top ten war films.

The inspired calculation of action and agonised human reaction is irresistible and inescapable. It is a film that leaves the audience shattered and exhausted by the drama of the battle both for the hearts of the men and the destruction wrought on the floating fortresses. All of which is enhanced by the feeling, common to most of Clouzot's pictures, that he rather despised people and knew that sooner or later their worst traits would come through. Of course, the trick to that is that these tough sailors become all the more heroic because they are not sentimentalised.

The end result was the shattered remnant of the loyal Marine National limping into Mers-el-Kebir in Algeria some four days later. My great grandmother had places a small dried out lily in the scrapbook, with the a simple inscription underneath. I found out from dad that both men were acquaintances of mother when they met her on leave in nineteen fifteen.

In memory of Jean-Claude and Marcel, may you rest in peace beneath the waves, safe in the knowledge that you are in a better place.

Burgundian Minster for Information Frossard quickly put out a series of posters lauding the heroism of the mutineers, which appeared in many major cities around Europe over the next couple of weeks. The slogan freedom comes to those who grasp it quickly became the catch phrase among the socialist supporters. My great grandfather even kept the series of postcards the BSSR produced, sending one back home to much consternation from his father. Christopher Hill wrote the first English language history of the Burgundian side of the story, and his passage on the mutiny was very telling.

One singular moment is all it takes to push the path of progress, that is all that is needed to determine the outcome in favour of the worker.

At a stroke the sailors tore down the oppression of the King and the French state, and enabled those working towards the ends of progress and true liberty to have the tools at their disposal to throw off the shackles of Imperialist oppression.

In London and Berlin the following night was spent in subdued panic, trying to work out the best way to react to a significant portion of the French fleet falling into the hands of the communists. The Austrian archives provided me with a glimpse, as cables from London to Vienna requesting that the Austrian high seas fleet sail immediately to reinforce the British squadron off the coast of Burgundy. No formal reponse was ever sent. The boy Emperor Otto, the five year old son of the murdered Charles, was the subject of a power struggle between the moderates led by Karl Seitz and the reactionaries led by Karl Georg Reichsgraf von Huyn, the governor Galicia who had returned to Vienna in the hope of organising enough troops to quell the growing ethnic tensions in the region. His general staff marched into the Hofburg and placed Seitz under arrest before he could force Queen Mother Zita, acting as regent, to sign the instruments of abdication for her son. Seitz's charge sheet in the archives was an indictment was true of all the moderates in the city that night.

Herr Seitz has knowingly and willfully put his own self interest above those of the people, and in demanding the adbication of the lawful ruler of out nation has committed an act of high treason against the state and His Imperial Majesty Otto the first. For his crimes he must answer before a Court of officers of good standing, men of faith and reason.

The drum head Court that followed the next morning was luridly displayed as a cartoon on the cover of Punch, mocking the reactionary politics sweeping the continent. Liberty herself was in the dock, with a general from each of the European powers as her judge and jury. Underneath, Liberty quotes Seitz's plea.

Is it not right that liberty and justice should be at the heart of all matters?

The cafe I stopped off at one the way back to the hotel had a large collection of photographs from the Austrian Imperial period, and just above where I sat an image of Kaiser Wilhelm getting off the train at Vienna central station on the morning of July first. Standing behind him like a long shadow were Ludendorf and Prince Maximilian. Just steeping off the train is a twelve year old boy, Crown Prince Wilhelm, the Kaiser's grandson. Hew Strachan's masterful work on the nineteen fourteen to nineteen twenty two period gives a overview of Vienna over the next few days.

Wilhelm's unexpected arrival in Vienna on July 1st put the cat among the pigeons. German troops had only arrived in the city and the surrounding area a few days before, and there was still sporadic gun fights as the last of the communists were hunted down. His intervention saved the moderate politicians from the firing squad, though both Ludendorf and Huyn made sure that they were muzzled under penalty of death. The Kaiser hurried to meet Zita, and while there is no formal record of what was said behind the closed doors of the Hofburg, what happened next stunned the world. Wilhelm held a press conference on the steps of the palace and declared that a plebiscite would be held to decide if the Austrian and German Imperial crowns should unite under house Hohenzollern, with himself abdicating the crown in favour of Crown Prince Wilhelm. To say this shocked all gathered was an understatement, and it pulled the rug from under the generals who had been de facto rulers of Germany over the last two years.

On my last day at the archive I wanted to investigate the outcome of this announcement, as to this day it still provokes heated debate among me and my colleagues. I am certain Wilhelm knew which way the wind was blowing for his personal regime ever since Hindenburg and Ludendorf had forced him to appoint both Michaelis and then Prince Maximilian as Chancellors. Many observers at the Imperial court in Berlin saw the Kaiser's withdrawal from public life after the death of his son and heir as a sign of things to come. What is also certain in my eyes is if he had personally not intervened in July nineteen eighteen Austria would have ended up a republic or military dictatorship in the same vein as Bohemia Moravia. British propaganda had demonised him throughout nineteen sixteen and even at this point there was still a large amount of hosility. My great grandfather's diary on July second is very telling.

Give Willy his dues, sly bastard, but none of us stuck here in the heat and dust will forget him in a hurry. Bosche bastard should have been shot.

I saw the hand of Clausewitz in his approach, as the Kaiser had finally balanced the political objectives of the war he had so craved with the military objectives his field marshals had set down. Bismark would have remarked that Wilhelm had gone too far in the unification, as it upset the delicate balance of power, but as Wilhelm had turned his back on the old man's advice twenty years earlier, it was the ultimate Pyrrhic victory for him. The date of the plebiscite was set for July twentieth, and with the aid of the German army and newly formed Austrian freikorps battalions the word was spread through German Austria through rousing speeches on the stump. As for the rest of the empire, the 1973/74 BBC series Let Slip the Dogs showed of the horrors unleashed as each nation state was birthed in a baptism of blood and fire. Produced by Jeremy Issacs and narrated by Sir Laurence Olivier, the series focused on, among other things, the devastating human experiences of the conflicts, how life and death throughout the war effected all caught up in it, and gave a voice to the last tragic victims of tyranny. I always show at least on episode in class, with this year's being episode twelve – Whirlwind: sowing the seeds of destruction. One student wrote in his essay on the plebisite.

Can the Kaiser be trully blamed for the fallout from putting German boots on the ground in Austria? While his logic is questionable, and you can see clearly from his pre-war behaviour that he was inconsistent, I would say that for once he was acting in the best interests of all the German people, regardless of their nationality. Can any one person be blamed for the bloodshed? I would finger the Emperor Charles, as he should have listened to his ministers at the end of the war and allowed an orderly break up of the empire.

At the bottom of the last batch of letters the archivist gave me, there was one from the Kaiser to Zita dated July eighth, and its contents gave me a whole new light into their dynamic. For once the impulsive and reckless Wilhelm was presented as more than the sum of his parts.

Dear Empress,
I know that the burden of state lies heavy with you, and you only have Otto's best interest at heart. You have done a great thing, we have done a great thing, and hopefully in twelve days time a new dawn will greet our peoples where we can lead them towards peace and prosperity. I give you my guarantee that Otto will be well looked after, as indeed will your entire family, and I will ensure as best I can that you can all remain here in Vienna for as long as you like.
Yours sincerely,

That evening an email from an American colleague of mine drew my attention to the newly digitised Pathe newsreels that they had just released as part of their ongoing project to upload their entire archive. Three in particular got my attention. One was of the Russian royal family arriving in Southampton for Cowes week, sans the Tsar who was back home, which was a prophetic holiday given the ugly turn of events to come. The second was the stump speech of Lenin, who had come over the border from Switzerland to agitate against the plebiscite. The British press had got wind of this when he had sent a discrete telegram to The Times, and he was constantly on the run from German troops the entire four days he was in the country. The final clip was a more somber one, showing the funeral cortege of Queen Maria Dorothea of France through the streets of Paris. Her death from influenza was a sobering one to the French establishment, as it showed that the disease struck down all strata of society. I dug up Le Monde's obituary for her.

Her Imperial and Royal Highness sadly passed away at four o'clock yesterday afternoon after suffering a short illness. His Majesty was by her bedside, and is said to have given a great sigh when she passed. While the Queen spent most of her time at Alcsut prior to His Majesty's restoration to the crown, it was in the last two years where she helped spur on reforms for better medical support for the soliders and refugees that she will be most remembered. Not one soldier will forget her impassion speach before the Chamber of Deputies in His Majesty's first month in power asking for more money to be spent on the welfare of the sick and injured. Her presence at Court will be sorely missed.

The scrapbook also contains a small souvenir from the funeral that my great grandfather collected from the town post office near the camp, a black edged postcard of the Queen with the words Cher parti, notre reine bien-aimee. On the back my great grandfather wrote to my great grandmother.

Today has been a strange one, with many of the Frenchies not fussed by the queen's death, but those who were were blubbing like bairns. Hope you and Matilde are holding up well.

On the side of the Pathe site was a link to an Atlantic article on the hundredth anniversary of Woodrow Wilson's iconic speech at Carnegie Hall where he outline his vision for the future of American politics. History called it the Wilson doctrine, and it laid out a path America would follow for the next three decades.

Wilson's idealistic progressive notions for world peace, universal suffrage, and a genuine hope that diplomacy can solve a crisis before war is declared directly led him to personally see to it that the League of Nations become a reality in early 1920. There is little doubt any other President since would have had the strength of will to push through an Act through both houses of Congress empowering full American co-operation in the League, as without it the LoN would have simply been a lame duck talking shop. While Wilson may have failed in preventing the mission creep that occurred in France during the fall and winter of 1918 with the Marines, his acceptance of isolationist arguments that US forces should not be committed to what effectively was still then a central European crisis go down as one of the more prudent decisions of post 1914 occupants of the oval office. Having said all of that, not even Wilson with all his progressive foresight could have seen the economic storm that was gathering on the edges of the global economy in July 1918.

That last point was one which I tended to gloss over in my classes, at least in the first year seminars, as it was fraught with complexities I struggled to bring together in my writing. Critics of the nationalists point to the economic slump of nineteen nineteen as proof that their extremist ideologies were flawed from the start, but as ever, hindsight is a wonderful thing. On July twentieth Austria went to the polls, and for the next few weeks London music halls had this gag doing the rounds.

Kaiser Wilhelm won the election on a platform of "change."

I say, "what change?" because what's so new about a German coming in to clean up a mess an Austrian created?

So the Kaiser won his vote, and with it lost his crown. The next day he signed away his throne to his grandson, Kaiser Wilhelm the third, under a regency of Queen Zita. The old Kaiser published a letter in ever German newspaper the next day.

You all know the reasons which have impelled me to renounce the throne. But I want you to understand that in making up my mind I did not forget the country or the empire, which I have for so many years tried to serve.
I want you to know that the decision I have made has been mine and mine alone. This was a thing I had to judge entirely for myself. I have made this, the most serious decision of my life, only upon the single thought of what would, in the end, be best for all to have a fresh start for this newly joined nation.
This decision has been made less difficult to me by the sure knowledge that my grandson will be able to take my place forthwith without interruption or injury to the life and progress of the empire. And he has one matchless blessing, enjoyed by so many of you, and not bestowed on me, a regent who will guide him through the dark times ahead for the betterment of you all.

As I drove north from Vienna towards the border with Bohemia-Moravia, I pondered the last paragraph, and wondered what would have happened if Zita had not been there to moderate the increasingly reactionary general staff now under command. Would the new German empire have slid faster and deeper into chaos? One thing was for certain, under her influence those countries who wished to leave the empire were allowed to with as much dignity as Berlin could allow, and the rush became a stampede as one by one they all left, until just ten days after the plebisite only German Austria remained part of the German Empire. I am certain the generals would have demanded their pound of flesh, but in the end Austria had much to be thankful for as cooler head prevailed.