Centenary of the End of the Battle of the Somme

November 18 marks the centenary of the end of the Battle of the Somme, an event that passed essentially unnoticed, though it was a seminal event in the development of modern Canada. canadian-artillery-in-action-corrected_0Its carnage was over 1.1 million casualties from a combined population (both sides) of about 170 million. (For a scale, there have been approximately 35,000 U.S. casualties in Iraq from 2003-1016.)

I became interested in the Battle of the Somme earlier this year due to a sheaf of papers in the back of my mother’s china cabinet, which I noticed while she was moving.

The papers were copies of transcripts of letters from the front by the adjutant of the 75th Canadian Battalion (4th Canadian Division), one of the battalions which led the closing assault at the Battle of the Somme.  While other war-time correspondence in family archives tended to be sincere but dreary epistles, these letters were full of interesting details about life at the front – not just mud and food, but flares, “dug-outs”, young men having horse races, sightseeing at Amiens Cathedral five days after a battle in which 25% of the battalion were killed or wounded, the moral quandary of court-martialing soldiers who had wounded themselves to avoid further battle, typically because of what we today call post-traumatic stress disorder, with penalties shocking to today’s sensibility.  In this note, I’ve collated all of the china cabinet letters available from the china cabinet, interweaving with information from War Diaries, to provide a narrative (pdf).

In the transcript, neither the author nor addressee were transcribed.  From details in the letters, it is evident that the author was Miles Langstaff, then a recent graduate of Osgoode Law School.  I presume that his correspondent, who had knitted him a sweater and walked with him in the valley of the Humber River in west Toronto, was my grandmother. Langstaff was killed on March 1, 1917 in an ill-conceived raid at Vimy Ridge, a month before the major victory in April 1917.

 

 

 

Transcript and narrative here.

 


74 Comments

  1. milodonharlani
    Posted Nov 18, 2016 at 11:50 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Thanks very much for this moving contribution to never forgetting.

    Presumably had Miles Langstaff survived the Great War (to End All Wars), your grandmother might well have married him rather than your grandfather and you would never have been born, for which lack the world would be poorer.

    Yet let us remember the slaughter of the innocents at the Somme, almost unimaginable today. The offensive was waged with the “third British army” of the war, the first being the small professional force which delayed German First Army at Mons in 1914, the second being the all volunteer “pals” force of 1915 and the third a mass conscript army of 1916 on the French and German model.

    The offensive was intended to help relieve pressure on the massive blood-letting by the French at Verdun. On the first day of the Somme alone, July 1, British and Empire forces suffered 57,470 casualties, including 19,240 killed, and the French some 7000 casualties. The Germans endured 8000 killed, wounded and missing, and 4200 prisoners. The massacre continued until 18 November, ie 100 years ago.

    In its worst year in Vietnam, 1968, the United States lost 16,899 uniformed personnel, including three women. In all 15 years of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001, the USA has lost 6902 service members. Most of the British losses on that one day were borne by the UK, which then had about 15% of present American population. As I said, almost unimaginable.

    And I make this comparison despite having lost friends in both Vietnam and the presently ongoing wars.

    The world changed that year a century ago.

  2. Lance Wallace
    Posted Nov 19, 2016 at 1:57 AM | Permalink | Reply

    First paragraph: 2003-2016?

  3. AndyL
    Posted Nov 19, 2016 at 2:09 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Thanks Steve, I look forward to reading this

    Another scale point about the astonishing losses at the Somme and the whole of the First World War. Britain lost as many soldiers on the first day of this five month battle as the US did in the whole of the Vietnam campaign.

  4. 1nvw
    Posted Nov 19, 2016 at 2:52 AM | Permalink | Reply

    I am always struck by the great sense of lost of talented people reading firsthand accounts of the Great War such as you have compiled. Have you read Vera Brittain’s “Testament of Youth”? She would have been of the same age as your grandmother Mary and describes the loss of both her brother and fiance in the war.

  5. RoyFOMR
    Posted Nov 19, 2016 at 6:43 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Steve, many thanks for allowing me the opportunity to read this important and moving historical document. It’s a long read but I still felt a sense of loss when it concluded.

    I’ve read a lot about the trench warfare of WWWI but cannot think of anything that shares the thoughts of a participant better than this.

    Please convey my appreciations to your mother for making this document possible.

  6. lovelybacon
    Posted Nov 19, 2016 at 8:18 AM | Permalink | Reply

    I recommend this youtube channel for people interested in ww1. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCUcyEsEjhPEDf69RRVhRh4A?spfreload=5

    • Posted Dec 19, 2016 at 9:45 PM | Permalink | Reply

      LB
      I’ve also been following Indy Neidell’s excellent “Great War” week by week centennial history articles in YouTube. He covered the end of the Somme campaign a couple of weeks ago.

  7. TAG
    Posted Nov 19, 2016 at 9:45 AM | Permalink | Reply

    A few years ago with the coming of the centenary of WW1, I read several histories of the war and the politics leading up to it. The war triggered many changes in attitude. Prior to the war, the military leaders in Europe were aware of the effect of the machine gun, barbed wire and artillery. They had used them extensively in their colonial wars but only directed towards non-Europeans. They calculated the amount of massed fire that a formation of soldiers with repeating rifles could muster. The prevailing opinion was that the effect of these weapons could be overcome by the “elan’ of white European troops. The spirit of the troops to attack would overcome all adversity. France incorporated this into its pre-war planning and used it in their Plan 19 to attack into the German center in the opening phases of the war. This only enabled the German plan of attack on the left flank.

    I suppose the reason for my rambling here is that pre-WW1 military thinking is an illustration of a collective rejection of evidence in favour of a preferred idea by supposed experts. A consensus was shared among the military elite and this consensus was tragically wrong

    • James Nickell
      Posted Nov 19, 2016 at 10:47 AM | Permalink | Reply

      Much of 20th century strategic military planning seemed to concentrate on how to win the previous war.

    • Duster
      Posted Nov 19, 2016 at 9:56 PM | Permalink | Reply

      My Grandfather was in the Queens Own Rifles and fought in the Somme and I believe was wounded at Ypres. He and my grandmother immigrated to California in the 1930s. He used to tell me stories about things that happened in the military when I was quite young.

    • Ed Snack
      Posted Nov 20, 2016 at 3:41 PM | Permalink | Reply

      TAG, a lot of weight was put on the Japanese experience in 1905 against the Russians around Port Arthur. There, the Japanese used massed infantry attacks against dug in troops with machine guns….and the won eventually after taking large casualties. There the morale of the Japanese soldier (as also witnessed in WW2, individually for cultural reasons, the Japanese infantry were exceedingly brave). This was seized upon by some military theorists, particularly those in France although to a large extent all leading European nations agreed with the concept.

      The British Professional army though did have a different approach to a degree. There were enough veterans at the NCO and officer level from the Boer war who knew from personal experience the impact that modern weapons could have. Unfortunately that army was essentially dead by the end of 1914 following the first Ypres battle.

      These military theorists by the way, knew that the casualty rates would be high, but they thought they could, short term, stand those rates in order to win. In the end though, the lethality of modern weapons (modern in an early 20th century way) was such that tactics made only small differences in casualty rates. One of the French Generals made the undoubtedly true comment “Whatever you do, you lose a lot of men”.

      Late war tactics were far more effective but even then casualty rates were high, the difference being that more ground was taken, and by late 1918 the German forces simply weren’t as good or as dedicated as they were in 1916 or so. Attrition had indeed taken its toll.

      Worth noting as well that although there was only a limited period of intense fighting in Western Europe June 1944-April/May 1945, casualty rates for British and US forces in that period were as high if not higher than those from WW1. However survival rates were better because of superior medical care (antibiotics for a start).

      • TAG
        Posted Nov 24, 2016 at 10:49 AM | Permalink | Reply

        There was the pre-WW1 military consensus that élan and the spirit of attack could overcome the lethality of modern weapons. Additionally, there was a naval consensus on the primacy of the dreadnaught. This was the all large gun battleship that was the object of the pre-WW1 naval race between the UK and Germany. These large ships were so expensive that building two or three a year put sever strain the finances of major countries like the UK and Germany. They were the basis of naval planning for these countries. They were obsolete before they were built.

        The naval mine and torpedo had been developed in the late 19th century. With these weapons, small ships had the capability of defeating large battleships. The only engagement between the battle fleets of the UK and Germany in the war took place in the battle of Jutland. At the end of that battle, the UK fleet was maneuvering to deal a perhaps fatal blow on the retiring German fleet. The German commander ordered a torpedo attack by his destroyers on the UK fleet. In response, Admiral Jellicoe, the UK commander, ordered his dreadnaughts to turn away and retire from the battle zone allowing the German fleet to escape. After the war, Jellicoe received strong criticism for this. However, his order was in compliance with standard British doctrine. The dreadnaught was not fit for purpose. It could not defend itself. It was defeated by the torpedo. It was obsolete before it was built.
        So there were two expert consensuses before the war that guided military planning and put severe strain on public finances. Both were quite wrong.

        • Ed Snack
          Posted Nov 24, 2016 at 3:56 PM | Permalink

          TAG, interesting take but, I feel, not entirely universally accepted. The Dreadnought battleship WAS the prime naval means for dominating the sea in that period. Although British doctrine said that one should turn end on to face a massed torpedo attack, Jellicoe *could* have turned towards the German fleet not away and been in contact. In fact torpedoes in WW1 sunk very few Battleships (One Austrian large pre-dreadnought I think) though a significant number in WW2. Torpedoes launched from destroyers/torpedo craft (WW1 destroyers were pretty small)sunk no battleships. I think one British battleship (Marlborough) was hit by a torpedo at Jutland but it was able to continue in the line of battle. So in fact the doctrine about the lethality of torpedo boat/destroyer attacks was faulty and it posed a much smaller risk to Battleships than perceived.Battleships dominated the ocean, submarines could certainly threaten trade and were a major threat for that, but with the fleet, Britain could not be invaded with the means available in WW1.

          As for the cost, in 1912 (I think) the British had the slogan “We want eight and we won’t wait”; they built 8 new Dreadnoughts that year without excessive strain on the treasury. Battleships were actually *relatively* cheap, large scale armies, now they were expensive.

          However following the immediate battle, Jellicoe and his grand fleet were positioned between the German fleet and their base. That night the Germans infiltrated between the British ships, being spotted an a number of occasions, but because of the training and doctrine in place, they were not fired upon not reported, which is extremely odd. Had the British fired the first time they spotted a German ship attempting to cut through they would likely have prevented the infiltration, and the Germans could not withstand another major fleet action.

          There is a really excellent book on Jutland and the whole training/doctrine/signalling issue in the Royal Navy at the time and leading up to WW1. It is “The Rules of the Game” by Andrew Gordon, I highly recommend it as excellent history and a good read as well.

        • mpainter
          Posted Nov 24, 2016 at 6:10 PM | Permalink

          The Battle of Jutland was a mishappen affair. Jellicoe realized the utmost dream of naval strategists of the dreadnought era: crossing the T. That should have led to the destruction of many German ships, but it did not. Further opportunity was squandered in the chase, as you pointed out, Ed. One thing I have just learned over the web, that I did not know before: the British armor-piercing shells were defective and exploded on contact rather than by fuse (after penetration). The cordite in the charge was unstable. One authority claimed six more German ships would have been destroyed but for the defective shells.Whew!

      • TAG
        Posted Nov 25, 2016 at 11:17 AM | Permalink | Reply

        The essence of this discussion is, for me. that there were two consensuses at the outbreak of the war – the military with the importance of élan and the naval with the primacy of the all big gun dreadnaught. Neither of these consensuses was proven by the realities of the war. However, contrary to the common opinion, military tactics and technology continually evolved though the war until finally by 1918 the machine gun and the wire had been overcome and the militaries of both sides were able to break out of the trench system. The generals were not the “donkeys” that they are often made out to be.
        This cannot be said of the naval consensus, however. For example, at Gallipoli, a fleet of dreadnaughts and supporting ships tried to run the straights. They were defeated by a combination of floating mines and shore batteries and yet the big ship consensus was not broken. The floating mine, a metal ball containing explosives, defeated the most technologically advanced weapon of its day. Billy Mitchell arranged for aerial bombing tests on naval vessels, sank a number of ships including a large German one that had been at Jutland, but these led only to his eventual court martial.
        Sometime I personally compare the naval consensus to the climate consensus that so much is written about. I don’t know enough to have a real opinion about climate but I take note of the resistance there is to good news in climate research. If there are estimates that climate sensitivity is on the low and perhaps benign side, then I can be sure of reading opinions that this just cannot be so. The consensus is too wrapped up in itself to allow for this sort of finding. I suppose that this would not be surprising to sociologists and anthropologists but, for me, consideration of the responses of the two consensuses of WW1 to contrary events is revealing.

        • Ed Snack
          Posted Nov 26, 2016 at 12:41 AM | Permalink

          TAG, I don’t particularly disagree with your analysis of the army tactics, just wanted to point out that it wasn’t entirely made up. It was based on a combination of study (like of the Japanse assault on Port Arthur) and on a degree of wishful thinking. It was also thought that with th right Elan smashing Victoria cult be achieved and it would be a quick war. Not everyone nought that, Kitchener certainly was planning for a long war, and Haig also did not believe in the war “being over by Christmas” as was the popular view.

          The French were particularly jnfcted with the Elan in the attack bug, their initial strategic plans were very unrealistic and involved huge infantry attacks through Alsace and Lorraine, these failed with heavy casualties and if successful would only have actually helped the German plan to envelope Paris from the West. British doctrine, modified heavily after the Boer war also did not ascribe nearly so heavily on momentum in the attack. However morale was very important, do staying power in the attritional war that followed.

          However I do disagree on the Naval start by. At the time the Dreadnought Battleship was indeed ruler of th waves. The attempt to force th Dardenelles is misleading, a piece of water dominated by land based guns on both sides and with very restricted navigation ideally suited to mines, and indeed with a current that could be (and was) use to float free mines down onto th ships. An almost unique situation and of no consequence elsewhere. Mines did inflict casualties, notably the Hampshire carrying Kitchenr to Russia, but that was a Heavy Cruiser. Several Battle ships were damaged by mines, I think the Derflinger was further damaged by a mine after Jutland, but in WW1 mines were obstructions but not terribly important in controlling the seas. The were numerous minefields in the North Sea and Channel, none of these prevents the battle fleets deploying and fighting at Jutland. And they didn’t prevent th Germans from bombarding several British coastal towns either.

          So apart from extreme situations like the Dardenelles Battleships were not really supplanted until the rise and maturation of Naval Aviation. That was WW2.

          Back to the Somme briefly, a major problem for the British was a dearth of capable commanders for the huge number of battalions, brigades, and divisions raised. A great many were officered by retired officers brought back into service, and many of these were out of date and not very competent, but they were all that was available. This is on major reason why so many f the units that fought on the Somme were relatively badly trained. In August 1914 Haig argued that th British should leave at least 10% of their skilled officers and NCO’s behind to train and form a nucleus for the replacement formations that would follow. However most of the political and military establishment disagreed, thinking it would be a short war and that there was no need to do so. Thus when the original expeditionary force was effectively wiped out in First Ypres, there really was almost nobody left to train and educate those who followed. That was made worse by Kitchenrs insistence on forming his volunteer army into a new set of formations and not to use the dieting territorial system. Some units were relatively OK, but many were poorly trained and hence the reliance on long lines of troops crossing no mans land, making them extremely vulnerable to defensive fire from machine guns and artillery.

        • TAG
          Posted Nov 27, 2016 at 10:35 AM | Permalink

          In regard to the quality of leadership at the Somme, I have read that the British Armies were merely administrative units and that divisions would be assigned and removed from them on an as needed basis. As a result, officers from their separate divisions were never able to learn to work together and form a cohesive unit. The Canadian government refused the British request that Canadian soldiers be assigned as replacements within British divisions. The government insisted that Canadians serve in Canadian units and fight together as a whole. As a result, the officers of the Canadian Corps and later Canadian Army did gain the experience of working together coherently. This, along with the skill and competence of their commander, Sir Arthur Currie, is said to be key to the Canadians success

        • TAG
          Posted Nov 27, 2016 at 10:43 AM | Permalink

          In regard to my speculation about issues with “consensus” and how a consensus may deprecate challenging data, I am reminded of the work of Jacques Ellul and his book entitled “Propaganda”. He identifies propaganda as a set of shared beliefs that have achieved the status of “emotion”. That is these beliefs are essential to a shared community and challenging them challenges teh integrity of the community. Ellul noted that the first victim of propaganda is the group that shares it. I can see the usefulness of Ellul’s insight in assessing teh dreadnought naval consensus of the early 20th century. Perhaps it would aso be useful in examining the consensus surrounding climate research.

        • mpainter
          Posted Nov 27, 2016 at 1:20 PM | Permalink

          TAG, I do not believe that naval strategists of the dreadnought era claimed that these were invulnerable to torpedoes and mines- or armor piercing shells. The “consensus” that the dreadnought was the foremost capital ship also held that these were vulnerable to such devices. You seem to think that vulnerability to torpedoes and mines negates that consensus. You seem to imply that strategists of that era ignored the vulnerability of dreadnought to these hazards. They most assuredly did not.

          The challenge of aircraft carriers to the primacy to the dreadnought is a different matter. The dreadnought mentality persisted, wrongheadedly, until WW 2 when the aircraft carrier was shown to be the only capital ship of importance.

          Churchill was one of the surprised. Of the sinking of the Prince of Wales and the Repulse by Japanese aircraft (two days after Pearl Harbor) Churchill wrote “That was the most direct shock that I had ever experienced.” Churchill had ordered these vessels to the Far East just a month previously, thinking to improve the strategic position of GB in that region. Thus it came home to the old school that the dreadnought era was over.

          Interestingly, GB launched the first purpose-built aircraft carrier in 1918, the HMS Argus. The HMS Dreadnought was launched in 1906, I believe. So the primacy of the dreadnoughts as the for most capital ship was short-lived.

  8. R. Patton
    Posted Nov 19, 2016 at 3:11 PM | Permalink | Reply

    The last reference “Garnett, Colin …” gives a Page Not Found

  9. Profane
    Posted Nov 19, 2016 at 3:40 PM | Permalink | Reply

    http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/about-us/about-collection/pages/gifts-archives-published-materials.aspx

  10. Morgan
    Posted Nov 19, 2016 at 6:40 PM | Permalink | Reply

    OT, but can I recommend that you take a few minutes to tell your mother that you love her and appreciate her efforts (no matter how effective/ineffective) to make you what you are today.

    I lost my mother unexpectedly recently, and wish I had not left some things unsaid.

  11. Edef
    Posted Nov 19, 2016 at 8:25 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Miles Langstaff is a great narrator. Imagine having the poise to write such clear letters in the midst of such carnage. I have read WWI accounts from the Russian, British and American context
    , but never from the Canadian perspective but the Dominion was well represented in that conflict, as this trove attests.

  12. AntonyIndia
    Posted Nov 19, 2016 at 9:29 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Off topic but cannot post it under the the old UK inquiry UEA treads: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/nov/20/chilcot-inquiry-designed-to-avoid-blame-secret-cabinet-office-documents

  13. Posted Nov 20, 2016 at 1:48 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Thanks Steve, and important anniversary and event to remenber.

    I wonder why some horrible events are ingrained in common consciousness and others less so. You mention Vietnam and Iraq. At the moment I’m about 40 km from Guernica, and will see the famous Picasso again next week in Madrid after originally viewing it when it was still in New York. Partisan death estimates of the Guernica attack range from about 150 to 1650 but most historians now think the actual number is about 300. Yet I would say that event is much more well known than the Battle of the Somme where the dealths were thousands of times greater. Of course Picasso was young then and not French, but why didn’t other artists make a memorable painting to represent the insanity?

  14. Don Keiller
    Posted Nov 20, 2016 at 9:08 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Many thanks for this Steve- these lessons of history must not be forgotton.
    My grandfather was a Lewis gunner at the Somme and spent 2 years (1916-8) on the frontline.
    Of his platoon less than 10 survived. Fortunately he was one of them.
    He didn’t say much about his experiences, even to my father, who fought for 6 years in WW2,
    saying “even though you were a soldier, you wouldn’t understand”.

    I cannot begin to imagine what he did and saw.

    • TAG
      Posted Nov 20, 2016 at 9:24 AM | Permalink | Reply

      Popular accounts of WW1 often show soldiers advancing on a trench and being mowed down by machine guns. By the last two years of the war, this was no longer true. tactics and training had advanced to counter these threats. Before attacks, the locations of machine guns would be determined and artillery fire plans developed to destroy these emplacements. For those machine guns that survived this, troops were trained to advance by leap frogging with supporting squads with each covering the other. the machine gun threat had been minimized.

      I can recall in one of William Faulkner’s novels (“Soldier’s Pay”), one of the characters (a soldier just returned to the US at the end of the war) using an expression about the chance for life of a machine gunner as something minimal. Faulkner was born in 1897 and so would have been of the generation that experienced this.

      • Steve McIntyre
        Posted Nov 20, 2016 at 12:56 PM | Permalink | Reply

        you say:”Popular accounts of WW1 often show soldiers advancing on a trench and being mowed down by machine guns. By the last two years of the war, this was no longer true. tactics and training had advanced to counter these threats.”

        Sure, but this doesn’t mean that this characterization is untrue of the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Also, in the case here, it sounds to me like that 75th Canadian, from their experience at Somme, knew very well how to prepare an attack to avoid being mowed down by machine guns. But at the Vimy Ridge raid on March 1, 1917, the central planners required them to employ tactics that they were dubious about and they were mowed down.

        • TAG
          Posted Nov 20, 2016 at 6:14 PM | Permalink

          By the later part of the war, both sides were using a defense in depth. The use of intelligence and artillery resulting from intelligence demanded that Front line trenches were only lightly held. The defenders would withdraw to secondary trenches and then call for artillery to bombard the attackers in the trenches that they had just taken. The defending infantry would then counterattack from their secondary trenches and retake the front line positions

        • mpainter
          Posted Nov 21, 2016 at 4:20 PM | Permalink

          Wikipedia gives a detailed account of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, April 9-12, 1917, presenting it as a model of preparation and execution. It touches on the March 1 raid by elements of the “Fourth Canadian Division” in which there were “637 casualties including two battalion commanders and a number of company leaders killed”. Vimy Ridge had been converted into subterranean gallery by the Germans. It was not a position defended “in depth” even though this doctrine was by this time was standard German defensive procedure.

          Steve: the April attack on Vimy Ridge is important in Canadian historiography as one in which Canada had a lead role and as an event where Canadians began to have a primary identity as “Canadians”, as distinct from a primary identity as members of the British Commonwealth. Ties to Britain were much stronger when I was a boy than they are now.

      • Don Keiller
        Posted Nov 20, 2016 at 4:34 PM | Permalink | Reply

        TAG- one story my father told me about grandfather was of him “going over the top” and seeing the men either side of him shot.
        When he stopped to try and help one, he was ordered, at gunpoint, by the officer following to move forward or be shot.
        Apparently it took my grandfather some effort not to shoot his own officer.

        • TAG
          Posted Nov 20, 2016 at 6:17 PM | Permalink

          Yes, they would never stop. They had to keep up with the creeping barrage that was protecting them.

  15. MrPete
    Posted Nov 20, 2016 at 5:18 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Wow Steve. That’s quite the labor of love!

  16. Jim murta
    Posted Nov 20, 2016 at 8:06 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Very moving. Captured what our grandfathers endured. Thank you for publishing.

  17. Posted Nov 21, 2016 at 8:03 AM | Permalink | Reply

    My own family has some history such as this (not nearly as in depth). It really is history, not just numbers and dates, but the life of people of that period. And I find it the most interesting. I will read the PDF at my leisure, but wanted to thank you for making it available.

  18. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Nov 21, 2016 at 8:42 AM | Permalink | Reply

    From the numbering, it looks like the letters collated here are about 25-30% of the correspondence that my mother transcribed. She recalls donating the originals to a municipal library. When I get time, I’ll chase the rest.

  19. pottereaton
    Posted Nov 21, 2016 at 11:43 AM | Permalink | Reply

    You’ve uncovered and unlocked a treasure there, Steve. Excellent presentation. Langstaff was a fine writer.

    For the past few years I have been doing something similar based on speeches my great-great-grandfather wrote and delivered some twenty five years after the Civil War. They had been stored in a metal box at my grandfather’s house. My father and I transcribed them, which was difficult as they had been written in pencil and were barely legible. He had spent much of 1864 in the Army of the James around Petersburg and Richmond as the war came to an increasingly violent close. He was a captain in the US Colored Troops, which had white officers. He was wounded twice but survived to run a hardware business in Natick, MA.

    Steve: good luck with the project

    • pottereaton
      Posted Nov 21, 2016 at 1:45 PM | Permalink | Reply

      Steve: have you thought about trying to find and contact Langstaff’s relatives? They might appreciate having those transcriptions.

      Steve: there is a namesake Miles Langstaff in Toronto on twitter https://twitter.com/dearshabby, who, judging from his twitter feed, is interested in other topics. Tim Cook, the author of the article on the Vimy Ridge raid, is now a federal government historian and I intend to contact him.

  20. Edef
    Posted Nov 21, 2016 at 5:43 PM | Permalink | Reply

    David McCullough’s Truman has a good description of Harry S. Truman’s involvement in WWI in France as an artillery officer, although the Americans got into the war fairly late. Highly recommended reading for a variety of reasons.

  21. Michael Lewis
    Posted Nov 22, 2016 at 4:19 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Thanks Steve for your transcription effort. During these centenary years, a lot of WW1 information has been released both in print and film – accompanied by much introspection.

    In Australia, 100 years of concentrating on its first major action at Gallipoli is being supplemented by a much deeper look at its actions on the Western Front where the engagement and casualties dwarfed those at Gallipoli. Nation recognition and gradual separation from Britain has occurred in a parallel manner to Canada.

    But from a personal point of view, where my father was rejected from volunteering in his late teens and my wife’s grandfathers fought for “the other side” – one dying, the other being permanently injured, the most important event with respect to WW1, has been to drive over the area of Northern France and Belgium, stopping at cemeteries, memorials and battlefront sites. You travel with reverence, awe and deep sadness as the incredible sacrifice of life sinks in.

  22. mpainter
    Posted Nov 22, 2016 at 10:12 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Of interest to me was Langstaff’s account of the demoralization among German POW taken in the Somme offensive. They had lost faith in Germany’s prospect of victory, after only two years of war. It was the collapse of German morale at the end of the war that gave the Allies a sudden victory. The German high command panicked, communicated their panic and the whole nation suffered a collapse in morale. Germany had been starving for years because of the Allied blockade. Nobody in Germany regretted the exit of Kaiser Wilhelm.

  23. AntonyIndia
    Posted Nov 23, 2016 at 12:31 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Kaiser Wilhelm II was “too big to fail”: he was left to exile 70 km over the border in the Netherlands. Other German war leaders died of old age too (Helmuth von Mothe (the younger), Paul von Hindenburg, Erich Ludendorff).

  24. sue
    Posted Nov 23, 2016 at 3:50 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Typo in para of letter, October 2nd 1916 Letter 32, 3rd sentence from the end: “we would like to have boom”, should be “been”?

    Will continue reading tomorrow 🙂

  25. sam
    Posted Nov 24, 2016 at 9:17 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Here are some links.

    The first is a piece in the Irish News about the battle of the Somme.

    http://www.irishnews.com/news/2016/06/30/news/the-somme—ulster-unionism-s-blood-sacrifice-584061/

    The second is to a Wiki description of a play by Frank McGuinness, “Observe the sons of Ulster marching towards the Somme.” There are many sons of Ulster in Canada.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Observe_the_Sons_of_Ulster_Marching_Towards_the_Somme

    The third details acts of bravery

  26. dearieme
    Posted Nov 24, 2016 at 7:03 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Nobody had expected four years of siege warfare. They’d prepared for a war of manoeuvre but from the Channel to the Swiss border ran opposing castle walls.

    The British were in a particular pickle because they’d never used conscription (unlike the French, Germans, Austrians, and Russians) so all they had was their tiny professional army plus some reservists, and territorials with precious little training. Who do you use to train the volunteers and then the conscripts? If you withdraw officers and NCOs from the Front you’ve weakened yourselves there. If you don’t your new armies are bound to be undertrained.

    My family had boys who came home from Canada and the US to volunteer. Poor souls.

  27. Sigmundb
    Posted Nov 25, 2016 at 7:05 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Thanks for taking the time to present Langstaffs letters to us.
    I can’t understand why a privileged and talented young man would leave girlfriend and career, volunteering for something he must have known would be bad.
    How he describes the hardships as well as the lighter side of his experience with a brave face and good humor is impressive, you can’t help starting to admire the man.
    That he doesn’t make it is a reminder of the waste the Great War was. Like some other readers I looked up Vimy Ridge in Wikipedia and felt a connection when I read about the raids leading up to the real attack.

  28. Posted Nov 27, 2016 at 12:14 AM | Permalink | Reply

    An astounding educational and darned interesting read!!

    Thank you Steve!

  29. TAC
    Posted Nov 29, 2016 at 2:23 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Steve, thank you for sharing this beautiful account of events a century ago. I found it hard to read knowing how the story ended for so many remarkable young men like Miles Langstaff.

    People knew what was happening (“The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time.”); it did not make a difference.

    The horror and pointlessness of WWI, and consequences for everything that has happened since, make me worry about our current world and its future. Is there a limit to human stupidity?

  30. dearieme
    Posted Nov 29, 2016 at 4:27 PM | Permalink | Reply

    “The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time.”

    An added irony is that Sir Edward Grey, who said that, went on to become blind.

  31. Paul AUBRIN
    Posted Nov 29, 2016 at 5:00 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Henri Barbusse wrote “Journal d’une escouade” (Under Fire), a journal of the live in the trenches during the first year of WWI.
    Online and ebook version:
    http://manybooks.net/titles/barbusseetext03ndrfr10.html

  32. Posted Dec 1, 2016 at 12:36 AM | Permalink | Reply

    My wife’s two great uncle’s were killed at Vimy Ridge.
    Last name Lauder from Alberta.

  33. Brian
    Posted Dec 3, 2016 at 8:54 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Wow! Just . . . wow.

    I have a letter, inherited from one of my wife’s relatives, that is similar and it sends chills up my spine to this day.

    Thank you. A thousand times . . . thank you.

  34. Posted Dec 4, 2016 at 10:21 AM | Permalink | Reply

    I very much enjoyed reading this Steve. Thank you.

  35. John G. Bell
    Posted Dec 4, 2016 at 7:53 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Steve, thank you for this narrative. Without labor of the sort you’ve done here history abrades away more quickly.

    You may have seen Captain Bellenden Seymour Hutcheson’s letter to Captain Gunyon that describes the events that lead to his receiving a VC. I mention him because he was likewise serving in the 75th Battalion and a doctor like your relative. If not it is well worth a read and of interest in itself. The letter was found in a trunk.

    http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~ww1can/hutch.htm

    I have a small pile of congratulatory letters and telegrams Hutcheson kept as well as the original Battalion Orders Dated Decr.21st.1918 announcing his VC. 98 years old. Perhaps this is the only surviving copy? It is order no.371. Humorously a leading bullet point on the first page, a warning about venereal disease, is longer than the mention of the VC on the last. Leave them with good news?

    Here is my favorite item, a “TELEGRAMME”.

    / CAPTAIN BS HUTCHESON CAMC 75 TH
    BATTALION CANADIANS BELGIQUE

    = . HALIFAX NS 013 10 V CIAL = CTLE =
    = SAFE = YOUNG =

    Sent to him around 15/12/17. I hope Young survived the war.

  36. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Dec 5, 2016 at 11:22 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Mark Steyn’s song of the week http://www.steynonline.com/4631/roses-of-picardy is Roses of Picardy, first published 100 years ago on December 4, 1916. Mark published a longer article a few years ago http://www.nzherald.co.nz/hawkes-bay-today/news/article.cfm?c_id=1503462&objectid=10963335. As Mark noted, Frank Sinatra covered the song in 1962 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_yNeT2FL0bk.

    Mark’s backstories on famous songs are fascinating and it’s very unlike Mark to miss an interesting historical detail, but I think that he (unusually) didn’t emphasize a relevant one here.

    The Battle of the Somme was in Picardy the capital of which is Amiens). In his earlier article, Mark discussed the song in the context of the Armistice, but not in the context of the Battle of the Somme, which had ended only a few weeks earlier, during which there had been ~600,000 Allied casualties.

  37. Bill Wylie
    Posted Dec 7, 2016 at 4:06 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Steve McIntyre – Thanks for the great post and the transcription and inclusion of the letters on the Battle of the Somme. The letters were detailed and gave me a better understanding of what my grandfather went through. He signed up in March 1915 with the 44th Battalion out of Winnipeg, was at the Somme Regina Trench and got a flesh wound (gunshot) Oct 25, 1916, he recovered and rejoined the 44th and went to Vimy Ridge where he received Military Medal for a trench raid in Feb 1917, then he was wounded by artillery shrapnel on Mar 31, 1917 at Vimy. He recovered and rejoined the 44th in May 1917 and was wounded again in Aug 1917 at the Battle of Hill 70. He survived and made it home to his wife and 3 daughters. He never talked to any of his 9 children about his service and we only found out when I did the research using his war record, the 44th War Diary and the 44th history book Six Thousand Canadian Men.
    Bill Wylie

    • mpainter
      Posted Dec 8, 2016 at 7:56 AM | Permalink | Reply

      “He never talked to any of his 9 children about his service…”

      Probably too painful to recall. The frightfulness, the grievous loss of friends, all the emotions suppressed under the dire necessity of combat are still there. Those who revisit the battlefields of Europe in later years sometimes find themselves weeping uncontrollably.

  38. mpainter
    Posted Dec 7, 2016 at 4:03 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Seventy five years ago, on this date, Japanese war planes from four Japanese aircraft carriers struck Pearl Harbor. They missed the U.S. carriers, which were absent from the base. Seven months later, these carriers sunk four Japanese carriers at the battle of Midway, crippling Japan’s naval capacity, and putting her on the defensive for the remainder of the war.

  39. TAG
    Posted Dec 22, 2016 at 9:29 AM | Permalink | Reply

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/12/20/christmas-day-truce-1914-not-one-off-researcher-reveals/

    The news item at teh URL above describes Christmas Day and other truces in WW1. This includes truces at the Somme after the battle in 1916. According to the article , these truces were quite common. They were so common that reports of them were suppressed in the official records to discourage teh practice.

  40. joe
    Posted Dec 23, 2016 at 4:02 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Steve: Re: Mann lawsuit & DC court of appeals ruling

    The DC court of appeals finally issued their ruling regarding the motion to dismiss. One of the striking items in the ruling was the extent to which the court attributed the various investigations as exonerating Mann as demonstrating that the defendants knew and/or showed disregard for the truth. (ignore the poor wording and generalization of my statement)

    My real question deals with the NSF report. As I recall, there was commentary that the NSF investigation only covered the period of NSF funding which was post the HS study. The memoradum report is somewhat vague as to the period which it actually covered. Let me know if you have any better insight and or information

    Thanks for the help

  41. Posted Jan 5, 2017 at 12:37 AM | Permalink | Reply

    This is o/t but interesting – an evolutionary psychologist discusses the reasons for, and disadvantages of, groupthink in scientific circles:

    “Forming coalitions around scientific or factual questions is disastrous”
    https://www.edge.org/response-detail/27168

    ​- John Tooby

  42. GD Holcombe
    Posted Jan 9, 2017 at 5:26 PM | Permalink | Reply

    I thought Steve (and others?) might be interested in this article–published today–written by Daniel Hannan, concerning his great-uncle who was lost in the Battle of the Somme. http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/my-great-uncle-fell-somme-we-must-not-forget-ordinary-men-who-did-extraordinary-things-1587962

  43. clipe
    Posted Jan 24, 2017 at 3:34 PM | Permalink | Reply

    http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/59916/LANGSTAFF,%20JAMES%20MILES

  44. clipe
    Posted Jan 24, 2017 at 10:25 PM | Permalink | Reply

    WW2, Battle of the Atlantic, my uncle.

    http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/2470634/MORGAN,%20FRANCIS%20JOSEPH

  45. Alan McIntire
    Posted Feb 2, 2017 at 10:43 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Military leaders would have had better results if they had studied the American Civil War, the first modern war, rather than the Franco-Prussian and Austro-Prussian pre modern wars.k They would have learned from Grant’s experiences in the Wilderness, Spotsylvania and Petersburg, that entrenched troops will inflict an inordinate amount of damage on the attacker. They would also have learned that preparatory 1 1/2 hour artillery barrages prior to an attack didn’t work out very well. The Confederates tried that at Gettysburg in preparation for Pickett’s Charge, which didn’t turn out so well.

    • Ed Snack
      Posted Feb 2, 2017 at 4:40 PM | Permalink | Reply

      Alan, it seems that they did. There was perhaps one of the best historians and analysts of the US Civil war who taught at the RMC at least when Haig and the others who were leaders during WW1 attended. Of course rigorous attention to the curriculum wasn’t always the norm.

      And about the short artillery bombardment, that is incorrect. As the ability to deliver precise targetted bombardments improved during the war, typical bombardments became shorter and shorter. By 1918 very short “hurricane” bombardments were the norm in attacks – for example in the August 8 Amiens attack and subsequently. Long drawn out bombardments such as at the Somme had their uses as a wearing out tactic, but made the ground near on impassable (especially for Tanks as deployed later in the war) and did ruin any attempts at surprise.

      Overall all commanders but especially the British were on a steep learning curve during WW1. The British, prior to 1914, had not only not carried out exercises (not even on paper) with armies larger than 3-4 divisions, that hadn’t even thought about armies of that size. The Germans, French, and Russians at least had (with their conscripted forces) structures and doctrines in place for large scale troop movements.

      As pointed out before, the generals took heed of all recent conflicts at least in some way. The very latest organized conflicts were the Russo-Japanese war in 1905, and the Boer war. I don’t think the Balkan conflicts (1900’s through to 1913, various Serbs, Monetnegrans, Bosnians, Croats etc versus Turkey) were considered as these weren’t particularly organized armies but very large scale insurgencies. The Boer war was regarded at least by the British as important at the unit tactical level. As a result the original British expeditionary force was actually very competent at that level with the ability to use cover, to shoot and move, and in basic skirmishing infantry tactics. Essentially all of this experience however was lost as that original force was destroyed through 1914 with only a remnant of those troops left alive after the end of the first Ypres campaign.

      The Japanese experience at Port Arthur though was very important to the continental armies, especially the French. At Port Arthur, the Japanese basically used massed infantry attacks with some artillery from mainly field artillery in support. They were attacking entrenched and reasonably well equipped Russian regular troops and the Japanese eventually overran the Port Arthur defenses and took the place. The lesson taken was that although entrenched defenses were strong, infantry with high levels of elan and morale could overcome them and win without large artillery support provided they had the numbers and would keep attacking despite losses. I think that the main WW1 experience didn’t entirely disprove that theory but the idea probably didn’t properly factor in the quality of the defenders. Also the thinking about a “short war” probably made the planners lose sight of the cumulative impact of casualties. The Russo-Japanese War was relatively short and fought (on the Russian side) with limited reinforcements.

      The US Civil war was also, at that point, 50 years earlier, and many probably assumed that lessons from that distance in the past were less important than modern experience. But basically your suggestion that the planners and generals should have paid more attention than they did to the lessons of the civil war is correct. It was the (in hindsight) obvious reference point of a large conflict fought between relatively well equipped motivated armies. Artillery did eventually make a difference and there was a large difference in that regard, but as to infantry tactics, real lessons available if they were studied.

  46. The Judge
    Posted Feb 6, 2017 at 1:35 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Thanks for posting this blog. Some things should never be forgotten.

  47. Ronald Cram
    Posted Feb 6, 2017 at 2:05 PM | Permalink | Reply

    The Daily Mail has published an article featuring a climate whistle-blower named John J. Bates. He’s calling it Climate Gate 2 (should be 3). I hope you write a post on this story. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-4192182/World-leaders-duped-manipulated-global-warming-data.html

  48. jddohio
    Posted Feb 6, 2017 at 7:41 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Just wanted to comment on Deflategate (that comments section is closed.) Even though I am an Ohio State guy, I think Brady has a lot of class. (While at Michigan, he gave encouragement to Steve Belisari, the OSU quarterback, who was going through rough spots) Sitting for 4 games may have helped Brady by resting him. As I have said before, I don’t like Goodell at all, but I still feel something fishy went on. (Which I don’t criticize the Patriots for that much because the “ethic” of football is if you can get away with it, do it — For instance, stealing the football in the pile after the whistle blows.)

    Congrats to Brady and the Patriots.

    JD

  49. talldave2
    Posted Feb 7, 2017 at 3:27 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Just wanted to say I really enjoy the rigor here, and it was great seeing Brady metaphorically spike the deflation accusation over the weekend. Look forward to future articles.

  50. co2islife
    Posted Feb 22, 2017 at 6:04 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Mr. McIntyre, I just posted the following message over on WUWT. Do you have a link to any data that might be relevant?. I’d like to run a regression against temperature. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    Mr. Watts, I may have a great project for your Blog. The IPCC Models provide the evidence to shoot down the AGW Theory. The IPCC Models most likely have a very very very low R-Squared, that is why they never publish the R-Squared of the models. You can host a project to beat the IPCC Climate Model R-Squareds. All you would need to do is create a repository for valid climate data. Dr. Spencer and Christy could provide the Satellite Data, Dr. Willie Soon could provide the solar data, someone else could provide the data for El Ninos and Ninas, others could provide data for clouds, albido, etc etc. The CO2 data is readily available. Once all the data sets are collected, multivariable regressions could be run on the data to identify the most significant variables, as well as establishing the R-Squared for the Temp=f(CO2) model. Once that data is collected, and the models run, it would provide great evidence for a court case. The Climate Alarmists would have to defend why a bunch of bloggers were able to create a climate model with a much higher R-Squared than the IPCC was able to do after spending billion of dollars. The models are the key to debunking this nonsense, and your website as the ability to reach the people that are needed to pull this off.

    Here is a more detailed explanation of the project.
    Climate “Science” on Trial; The Criminal Case Against the Alarmists
    https://co2islife.wordpress.com/2017/02/21/climate-science-on-trial-the-criminal-case-against-the-alarmists/

  51. co2islife
    Posted Feb 23, 2017 at 6:46 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Steve, this comment is off-topic, but have you ever run a regression of IPCC Model Forecasts against temperature to get the R-Squardeds of the models? If not, would you run that most basic of studies, and if not interested would you publish a link to the data and I’ll run them? I’ve been wanting to do an article on the topic.

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