Last WWI combat veteran dies: where can you see his legacy?

Claude Choules, WWIClaude Choules, the last known combat veteran of WWI, has died aged 110. Born in England in 1901, he was too young to enlist in the army when the war broke out in 1914, so he waited until he was 15 and enlisted in the Royal Navy, where he saw service throughout the war.

Unlike most veterans, he liked the service and stayed on. While working as a visiting instructor for the Australian Navy, he fell in love with the country and moved there. When war broke out again he fought for his new country in its navy. He retired after 40 years in service but never stopped being active. At the tender age of 80 he took up writing and penned his memoirs. Over time he became a pacifist and controversially refused to participate in ANZAC Day parades. There’s much more to his story, so check out the link and his memoirs, assuming the book isn’t sold out by now.

Choules fought on the sea, so with no battlefields to visit, where can you see the legacy of WWI’s last combat veteran? A good start would be the museums of the two navies in which he served. The Royal Naval Museum in Portsmouth, UK, currently has an exhibition called Sea Your History: 20th Century Royal Navy that shows what life was like aboard naval vessels during the two world wars and beyond. This gives a good insight into what a teenaged Claude Choules had to endure. The Royal Australian Navy Heritage Centre at Garden Island Naval Base near Sydney also has displays about life in the navy. I wouldn’t be surprised if both museums make special exhibitions to mark the passing of this remarkable man.

But you don’t have to go to the UK or Australia to see Choules’ legacy. He lived through the most momentous event of the early 20th century. The war changed Europe and the world. The millions of deaths seriously weakened Europe’s hold on their colonies and emboldened independence movements in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. The old aristocracy found itself hit hard financially and began to lose their grip on society. Large numbers of women got to work in factories and other “man’s jobs” for the first time, and began to question why they couldn’t vote.

While the First World War wasn’t the sole factor in the end of colonialism or the rise of women’s rights, it was a major one. If you want to see Claude Choules’ legacy, just look around you.

[Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Gallipoli battlefield being mapped by GPS

Gallipoli
Archaeologists in Turkey are making a detailed survey of the famous World War One battle of Gallipoli. Using period military maps and GPS technology, they’re mapping the old trenches and redoubts used by both sides.

Gallipoli was the scene of fierce fighting starting in 1915. A peninsula with highlands dominating the Dardanelles strait linking the Black and the Aegean seas, it guarded the western approach to the Ottoman capital of Constantinople, now Istanbul. The Ottoman Empire was on Germany’s side during World War One and the British Empire’s high command believed an attack on Gallipoli would be the first step to knocking the Ottomans out of the war.

They were wrong. The Ottoman Empire, long dismissed “the sick man of Europe”, put up a determined resistance and the British, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, and French troops got stuck on the beaches as Ottoman troops pummeled them from the highlands. After nine bloody months, the allies sailed away.

The international team of Turkish, Australian, and New Zealand archaeologists and historians have discovered large numbers of artifacts from the battle and are busy working out a complete map of the complicated network of trenches, many of which can still be clearly seen today.

The battle started 25 April 1915, and this date is marked as ANZAC Day in Australia and New Zealand. ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, who did some of the toughest fighting in the campaign. Many people in both of these countries feel the soldiers’ efforts proved the worth of the two young nations.

Last year archaeologists discovered the HMS Lewis and a barge sunk off the shore.

Junkie steals 100-year-old morphine, doesn’t get high

morphine, junkie
There’s nobody quite as determined or stupid as a junkie.

Maybe it’s hard to buy a hit on the streets of Cashmere, Washington, or maybe this particular junkie was short of cash. In any case, someone with a craving for drugs broke into the Cashmere Historic Museum and Pioneer Village and made off with a bottle of morphine pills dating back to World War One.

A doctor interviewed by the Wenatchee World newspaper said that the century-old pills would have long since lost their potency and wouldn’t have any effect at all, good or bad.

The intruder left a trail of destruction in his or her wake, as junkies usually do. Museum officials found a broken fence, a broken door, and a trashed display case. The case was a rare original from a period doctor’s office dating to 1890. Volunteers are now cleaning up the office so they can reopen it to the public.

This isn’t the first time the museum has been broken into. Its historic saloon has been burgled a couple of times by drunks looking for booze. There’s no alcohol in the saloon, and the folks at the Cashmere Historic Museum and Pioneer Village may want to rethink having real medication on display in their doctor’s office, even if it hasn’t been able to get anyone high since Burroughs was in short pants.

[Morphine cure ad c.1900 courtesy Mike Cline via Wikimedia Commons]

Touring World War One battlefields


On the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, the First World War ended. It was one of the deadliest conflicts in history and it redrew the map of Europe. As the 100th anniversary of the start of the war approaches in 2014, there’s been an increased interest in visiting the places where it was fought.

War historian Mike Hanlon is leading three tours next year that investigate the Great War. Hanlon is the editor of Trenches on the Web, the definitive site on the subject. He’ll be leading guests of Valor Tours on visits of the battlefields of Europe, including some that aren’t seen very often.

From April 30-May 7 he leads The Great War Experience, starting in Brussels at the Royal Military Museum (one of the best military museums in the world, and I’ve seen a lot of them) and continuing through some of the most important battlefields of the Western Front. From July 18-31 he’ll offer a rare opportunity to visit the Italian Front. High in the Alps, the Italian army held off the Germans and Austro-Hungarians until their disastrous defeat at the Battle of Caporetto, immortalized in Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. Included in the itinerary is the Isonzo river valley, scene of no less than eleven bloody battles. As my post on military museums in Rome shows, it was a tough fight. Frozen bodies are still being found to this day. The third tour looks at how warfare has changed in the past 500 years. From August 3-11 guests will see Agincourt, Waterloo, the Somme, and the beaches of Normandy.

While these tours aren’t cheap (they start at $2,950) you’re sure to learn a lot. I’ve been reading Hanlon’s work for years and he’s undoubtedly one of the top experts in military history today, especially about World War One.

%Gallery-107214%

[Photo courtesy Library of Congress]

Exhibition explores Germany’s relationship with Hitler

More than sixty years after the end of World War Two, Germans are still struggling with their Nazi past. While most of the population is too young to be culpable for World War Two, their parents or grandparents were involved. Many Germans opposed Hitler’s rise to power, but many more supported him, at least in the beginning.

A new exhibition at Berlin’s Deutsches Historisches Museum explores the German people’s relationship with Hitler. Hitler and the Germans: Nation and Crime brings together a wide range of artifacts and documents showing how Nazism came to dominate every part of German life. Hitler was everywhere–on postage stamps, magazine covers, even toys–and the Nazi party sought to have its ideology permeate every aspect of life.

During the 1920s the German economy was in ruins after losing the First World War and getting caught up in a global economic crisis. In his early speeches Hitler called on Germans to be proud, and blamed Germany’s loss in the First World War on Jews, socialists, and other “foreign elements”. Hitler became even more popular when he got into power and revived the economy. People who suddenly had good jobs after years of hardship and pessimism turned a blind eye to the regime’s seamier side.

Doing an exhibition on Nazism is tricky in Germany and some earlier attempts have been rejected by the police. It’s illegal to display the swastika except in a scientific or historical context, and the common fear is that any exhibition on Hitler will attract neo-Nazis. So far this exhibition has been well received and there have been no incidents.

Hitler and the Germans: Nation and Crime runs until 6 February 2011.

[Photo courtesy user Professional Assassin via Wikimedia Commons]