Somewhere in France – October 19, 1915

Another letter from my husband’s great uncle, Alexander Henry Tod, writing from France in WWI.

From the London Gazette March 1915: The Undermentioned to be temporary second Lieutenants
From the London Gazette March 1915: The Undermentioned to be temporary second Lieutenants

19/10/15

Nothing very new to report as we have not moved since my last letter. There is another division coming up to occupy our billets tomorrow night so we will have to make a move somewhere. We are however in reserve in the present operations and I don’t suppose will be called upon to do anything desperate just yet. Our present duties are to supply the various fatigue parties and I took the whole company out today to work on a shale heap which happened also to be occupied by a battery of our heavy artillery, so I had quite an interesting day watching them at work. Some of the guns were right behind us and to have these huge shells whizzing just overhead was quite an experience. The Germans did not return the fire, which was perhaps as well.

I move into another billet last night which although more commodious has a very hard stone floor and takes a lot of getting used to. I got word today that my missing kit has turned up at Folkestone and have instructed the Railway Co. to send it back to the Glasgow office, as I have enough stuff here to go on with and will get them to send out replacements as I require them.

We do not seem to be making much progress in the War at present but probably time is doing more than we can, and patience is a great virtue at this game. Germany is apparently expending her energies quicker than we are and what we have to do is to restrict her activities as much as we can.

Comment – he couldn’t have been more wrong.

These letters began on October 9th, 1915. You can find the rest of them by searching the tag or category ‘Somewhere in France’.

The next letter can be found here.

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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

The heartbeat of war

Britain declares war 1914Imagine reading the newspapers in late July and early August of 1914: July 28 – Austria declares war on Serbia and Russia begins to mobilize in Serbia’s defence; August 1 – Russia and Germany declare war on each other; August 2 – Germany sends troops into Luxembourg; August 3 – France and Germany declare war and that night Germany invades neutral Belgium; August 4 – Britain declares war on Germany.

And so it began, one of the most devastating wars ever experienced. Would you rush to enlist? Would you fear for your country? Would you flee your home? Would you dig a hole in the garden to store your precious possessions?

In researching for Lies Told in Silence, I spent hours trying to understand the lead up to war including the treaties amongst various nations and enmities that spanned generations. Europe was a complicated place but I knew that I had to figure out who did what in order to write the scenes I had in mind. Here’s an excerpt where Henri Noisette and two friends – Charles Ribot and Maurice Sembat – discuss the possibility of war. Archduke Ferdinand has already been assassinated; Austria is taking action.

Delcassé [French foreign minister] and Viviani [French prime minister] are worried,” he [Henri] said after the three men had raised their glasses in silent salute. “In fact, everyone at the Foreign Ministry is worried about the demands Austria will make of Serbia. I’ve heard talk of them wanting judicial standing in Serbian court proceedings against those responsible for the assassination. There are even rumours of artillery and ammunition being sent to the frontier between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, which suggests that Austria is using this time to prepare for conflict.”

“What about Germany? Will they support Austria?” Maurice inclined his head to acknowledge a bulky man with a florid complexion being seated near their table. “Alain Rivest,” he said in response to Henri’s questioning look. “Adrienne’s cousin.”

“Right. He looked familiar.” Henri cleared his throat. “Apparently, the Kaiser has reassured Berchtold [Austrian Foreign Minister] that they will support Austria whenever necessary.” Henri swirled his wineglass and inhaled then looked off to one side trying to discern a particular scent. “Blackberries,” he said.

The men stopped talking while the waiter served their meals and topped off their wineglasses.

“I understand Russia is backing Serbia,” said Charles.

“Russia has been after a share of the Balkans ever since the Turks withdrew, but Austria keeps them out. I guess the Russians think their best bet is an arrangement with Serbia,” said Henri.

“The Balkans has always been messy. So many tribes and ancient feuds. I need a history book to keep it straight.” As he spoke, Maurice waved his fork in the air.

Charles and Maurice both looked at Henri, waiting for his response.

“It’s a powder keg waiting to blow,” he said. “I’ve seen a consular report on Austria’s economic and political outlook. The report says the demands on Serbia will be severe. Things like dissolution of propagandist societies, repression of nationalism, cooperation with Austrian officials to guard the borders, revision of school curriculum to be more favourable to Austria. Our Foreign Ministry believes Austria wants Serbia to decline so they can instigate military operations.” Henri picked at his food, not the least bit hungry.

 

In another scene Helene Noisette – the daughter of Henri Noisette – asks her mother to explain how the Archduke’s assassination led to war. Lise is Helene’s mother, Mariele her grandmother and Jean her brother.

Ever since the Austrian declaration of war, Lise had insisted that she be the one to walk into town for the news, as if being the first to know might somehow protect her little family, and now she laid the paper out on the kitchen table for everyone to see. Helene and Mariele had been waiting for her, and Jean had come into the house as soon as he had seen his mother walk through the gate.

“And what about Germany?” Mariele said.

Afraid that her legs might fail her, Lise sank into a kitchen chair. “They’ve invaded Belgium.”

“Belgium?” Mariele said. “But Belgium’s neutral. Germany is violating international convention.”

“I don’t think Germany cares about international convention,” Lise said.

“Can you explain it to me, Maman? How does an assassination in Serbia cause all-out war? I’ve listened but I can’t piece it together,” Helene said, peering at headlines more than two inches high.

Grateful that her daughter had not realized the potential consequences of Germany’s invasion of Belgium—the border of that country less than fifty kilometres from Beaufort—Lise kept her eyes and voice steady. “I know it’s confusing,” she said. “It seems that Austria-Hungary has been trying to dominate Serbia and extend its influence in the Balkans. After the assassination, Austria made all sorts of demands on Serbia. Of course, Serbia wants to protect its sovereignty and therefore used its alliance with Russia to stand up to Austria on a few of their demands. So we have Serbia and Russia united against Austria. Then Austria calls on Germany’s help. They have an alliance too.”

“But what about France?”

“I’m getting to that. Because Russia and France, who are on the eastern and western borders of Germany, have a treaty to support one another, Germany feels threatened. I don’t think Austria expected Russia to come to Serbia’s defence. But when Serbia refused some of Austria’s demands and Austria declared war on Serbia, Russia mobilized against Austria. Then Germany mobilized against Russia. And France had to declare war too.”

As Lise’s explanation unfolded, Helene’s eyes widened and her face paled. “What does Papa think we should do?”

“I don’t know. I’m sure we’ll hear from him soon.

 

I still find it confusing!