Views from Various Trenches, Part I of II (Remembrance Day 2020)

One-hundred and two years ago at this very minute, the guns fell silent across Europe. Tens of millions of young men had lost their lives. To what end? Frantz Joseph wanted to win some military victory for the Dual Monarchy during his reign – and particularly wanted full control of Serbia. Gavrilo Princip, a teenager with a gun and some ideology, gave the Emperor his wish by assassinating Archduke Frantz Ferdinand – ironically beloved by nobody. He was too liberal for Austro-Hungary, to which he was heir presumptive. He was so obsessed with hunting that his wife quipped that he loved lions more than she. Both died at the wrong end of that ideological teenager’s gun.

Other European leaders were ready for war as well. While the Parisians were busy with la Belle Époque, Clemenceau and the generals thirsted for the return of Alsace-Lorraine, lost during the Franco-Prussian War. Wilhelm II, having strengthened Germany’s military a great deal and built up a reputable navy for the first time, was just looking for an excuse to use it. Britain wasn’t looking for war, but had promised to defend neutral Belgium. Albert I of Belgium, my personal hero amongst the leadership class of the Great War, refused the German demands to march through his neutral country on moral grounds. The fuses were set to a long line of metaphorical dynamites; the end results were the deaths of upwards of 40 million young men. This should not be a cause of celebration. Rather, it is a cause for remembrance – a lot of men took up the call. A lot of them died. Whatever side they fought for, we ought remember their names. We do, every year, on this blog inspired by my friend Doug. Which brings me to…

The Boyd/Jordan/Ference Collection

My personal views on the Great War are largely unchanged since I was 10 and discovered Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front. The futility of “the war to end all wars”, as well as its inevitability, is a sentiment I shared with Doug Jordan, the previous steward of our collection. This blog exists because Doug thought I ought to put some of my stereoviews and (he thought) hilarious commentary online. I justified making a blog by figuring I’d investigate some alpinism views that I’m still fascinated by. Sadly, as Doug later predicted, “titties and carnage” bring more visitors than the beautiful mountainous regions around Chamonix. C’est la vie.

Doug and I during what was sadly our only meeting – in the week leading up to his passing.

Doug did an amount of work that I can only call Herculean in terms of getting Great War stereography out to the masses. I was honored, and humbled, to be tapped to be the next steward of what is now the Boyd/Jordan/Ference Collection. We both had individual beliefs regarding certain aspects of the Great War; we were united in believing that it best served the public to remain neutral and publish every stereoview we could from every part of the war. Doug died earlier this year; his project on the Indian Corps is another thing left to me. But here it is in writing, for the first time from me at least – he died. He didn’t “pass on”, “succumb”, “pass away”, or whatever euphemism you like. This is a war post, and like all warriors, Doug died. Cancer’s as kind as a five-nine (German artillery shell); “slower and less-humane” in Doug’s words. Doug died.

This Remembrance Day Post

This is the first of two posts presenting 102 total stereoviews for 102 years since Armistice; below will be five countries’ participation in the war. The second is here. Everybody portrayed is dead. The war is over. The stereoviews are all in the public domain. Since I won’t have Doug to appeal to before and after this year’s post, I’ll employ his scans whenever possible. In updating Great War in 3D, I’ll have to replace a lot of Doug’s scans, as per his wishes. One day my scans will be replaced by the next steward’s, according to the next set of standards. I would hope that this post would be appreciated by Doug’s ghost, excepting that both of us wound up jaded, having spent countless hours staring at men snared in barbed wire.

With no Remembrance Day phone calls before and after this year’s post, I’m doing it alone. This is my post, and in no way represents the viewpoints of the Boyd/Jordan/Ference Collection. I hope Doug would be proud that I’m using his scans as much as possible before they’re replaced. I hope he’d have enjoyed my preference for under-represented fighting populations and units. I dedicate this post to Douglas L. Jordan, and as always, to the tens of millions of men who fell in 14-18 and to injuries sustained, after.

The Gurkha Regiments

Doing justice to the Indian Corps in one blog post, let alone ten stereoviews, is impossible. Read Army of Empire or For King and Another Country if you want an idea. However, I was inspired by a recent Western Front Association podcast by Pratap Chhetri (if the link doesn’t work for you, join the WFA – as a former smoker it’s cheaper for a year of amazing podcasts, periodicals, webcasts and other content than for 3 days smoking Gauloises, and far less carcinogenic). Hearing Chhetri talk about the first Gurkha officer inspired me to portray the Gurkha regiments. All scans by Doug, all captions (as with all Realistic Travels cards) are the Jordan Numeration (explanation forthcoming). And if you’re expecting views of these guys fighting, just remember, they were… fighting when those views would have been taken:

The Anzacs

What word would you use to sum up the sons or grandsons of those that were transported to Australia and New Zealand and still fought for Britain? Brave? Noble? Amazing? Gallipoli? I think of the last one most frequently, and while I don’t buy the “British Captains sipping tea one beach over” idea espoused by Peter Weir in the eponymous film, the Anzacs were done a disservice. Despite various disservices of history, they served with distinction – not just at Gallipoli, but throughout the war. An Australian working with a Canadian pursuer shot down Mannfred von Richthofen. I’m agnostic as to who fired the kill shot. I just know who it wasn’t – which includes Americans, British, and French.

Doug and I didn’t disagree on much, and I think any disagreements we may have had on Gallipoli will be settled when I throw a book in a dumpster tonight. Anything which describes the guys at Anzac Cove as “bumbling Australians” deserves a dumpster. My eyes went red when I saw that phrase. Old book, tired idea, dumpster. I’ll check other books I inherited for dodgy ideas before I read them. Either way, these guys were heroes to me, which is why they’re second (after the Gurkhas) in today’s Remembrance post. All scans by Doug, excepting one, which I needn’t mention if it isn’t noticed. George Rose will be tackled in a further post, all Realistic Travels shots were by Sir Charles Snodgrass Ryan. We never did figure out how Girdwood got them…

Austro-Hungary (Specifically, Hungary)

All white Americans are European mutts of one sort or another, unless they’re purebred something-or-others. I’m not stupid; having told at a young age that Ference was a Hungarian name I did everything I could to research it. It’s a linguistic corruption of Ferencz. Skip ahead to the last stereoview in this section if you like; you’ll see a Ferencz there. There are rumors of nobility and a castle on this side of the family. There is also Racist Uncle Bob. Yes, I’m American. And yes, I really do have a racist uncle named Robert. Shame, because I hate stereotypes. Some Ancestry.com research into my mum’s side of the family reveals possible Jewish heritage, which is more exciting.

These stereoviews are from the Austro-Hungarian series of Neue Photographische Gesellschaft (NPG). Specifically, they’re from the subset of NPG cards with Hungarian titling and no counterparts in the German-titled set. I scanned these myself for this post; I plan on doing up the rest of NPG at some future date. I have too much to do tonight; here’s what Franz Joseph’s “backwater” looked like (I say “backwater” because apparently the Austrians looked down on the Hungarians and with the Habsburgs, aren’t we all cousins?) And yes, I know that “Little Russians” is a pejorative for “lice”. Thanks Google Translate, for all the lovely captions:

America! Land of the Free! Home of the Brave!

Longtime Brooklyn Stereography readers know that I have a somewhat… tenuous? … connection with my “homeland”, stolen from Indigenous people and built on the back of chattel slavery. Look it up. This “land of the free” was built by people who could be bought or sold the way we buy and sell iPods today. That “home of the brave?” Yeah, Woodrow Wilson entered the war at the very beginning because Americans are brave. No, wait, after the Rape of Belgium… No it was the Lusitania…

Actually, after the Zimmerman Telegram, Woodrow Wilson finally committed America to the Great War, promising a million would enlist. He was only 940,000 shy of correct. Doug and I both darkly laughed at the Trump Presidency and we made plans for a spring 2020 visit – when Texans would vote the right way! We all know that didn’t happen; Doug was sort of embarrassed for Texas. I visited without fulfilling our dream of finding the Keystone 36-card “Negro Set’, Doug died, and Trump made his disparaging remarks about US Marines at Chateau-Thierry (Belleau Wood). Doug would be elated that Trump is gone, but since he’s not here to be elated, a little more backstory…

There’s a certain amount of stink you can put on something and it just stinks. But something stinks bad enough, something has the smell of corpse about it – you air it out, or you bury it. This has been buried too long. Almost every Black American serviceman who served during the Great War was conscripted. Quite a few never returned. Some reported “reverse shell shock” when Frenchwomen treated them like… men. Were most of them sent over to France when Foch asked for Troops? Yessir, but they’re our best!

Were 17 that we know of lynched on their return? Yes, says Dr. Amanda Nagel in a WFA talk (again, become a member!) Did more die in the Red Summer, and in 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, and in other incidents? Being that signing an ‘x’ counted as a signature on a draft card for the illiterate – and that this is where the records end for the 50% of Black men who were technically illiterate (couldn’t even sign their own name) – who knows? Ain’t you just feeling great? Because America. Yeah. Nothing like it. Here are some real Americans, and I damn well know Doug shared this sentiment:

The Italian Front

Honestly, I wish I had any info on these images. They were saved to Doug’s hard drive as “ItalianFront.zip”. They’re not great; they’re tagged 2015. We often joked we should have met earlier. We should have met earlier; I’d have taught him a thing or two about glass plate scanning; he’d have taught me a thing or two about having a brain like that and what to do with it when people were intimidated by the sheer amount of Great War knowledge he could recall with a reference to a building or a shell caliber. I wish I had better images to share – hell, I wish I knew which box these were in. I’d re-scan them in seconds. The Italians were originally part of the Triple Alliance, along with Germany and Austro-Hungary. They then declared themselves neutral, before siding with the Entente (Allies). I’ve seen videos of Italians carrying artillery pieces up to places I wouldn’t have climbed before my childhood best friend died free-climbing. These days I don’t climb (and my wife wouldn’t have it). They’re interesting in that respect:

How It Ends

This image has been mislabled as all sorts of things; as a Poilu, a Doughboy, or a Tommy. I honestly believe he was a Tommy. Americans borrowed British helmets when they could get them – fairly frequently at first. But I believe this Underwood caption over the Keystone one or the dodgy French version. I think this was a Brit. Doing his bit. Like I would have done mine, if the bugle had ever sounded for just reasons. Regardless, this is a good view of what we all become – just bone and ash and memory.

Well, it’s nearing 11:00 French time – some closing thoughts before I lay flowers on 50 memorials made to Brooklyn soldiers. The second half of this post can wait. I haven’t slept since Monday and it’s Wednesday. Would Doug and I have served in the Great War? See, we talked about this ahead of time. You bet your ass we would have. Same way my grandad gave national service in the 367th Fighter Squadron. So why didn’t we offer service when we could?

Douglas Lee Jordan

Doug grew up in the Anti-Vietnam era and distinctly distrusted the establishment. He trusted what he was good at – engineering – and went to work in the petroleum industry. He used that amazing brain and near-eidetic memory toward build a stable home, and toward having two children that he loved very much. I think of one every time I see my Ediburgh Stereoscopic Atlas. I get that one. I think of the other every time I see a certain weirdly dissonant painting on my wall. It’s from 1967. Reckon that about fits the mood too, though ’77 would have fit better. Doug retired early – and ahead of the game – to work on this collection. Then boom CANCER. Then false start! All things go. 20 year plan. Then cancer again. No caps this time. It was inevitable. Neither of us wanted to say it.

Ian Joseph Doyle Ference

Ian was a teenaged idealist not unlike Princip, but different in that he’d read Bertrand Russell on pacifism. On 9/11, he didn’t join the Bush Regime’s witchhunt, but rather, pursued letters in philosophy, before attempting to turn his interests towards saving American buildings. To this end, he caught back up on antique photo processes, architecture, and testifying at Section 106 Proceedings. Turned out this country didn’t want to save those buildings. Ian met Stacey Doyle – now Stacey Ference – the two exchanged more than names, and now live in Crown Heights – where they dream that on the darkest of nights, their love illuminates the countryside. They both read way too much Shelley as kids. They are now working together to make the Boyd/Jordan/Ference collection a viable 501(c)3 nonprofit.

Doug and Ian

Both went to concerts the other was jealous of. Those conversations are not for you.

The second half of this post is here.

Requiescat in pace, Doug. 21 Jan 1961 – 15 Jan 2020. I get your last joke.

2 Replies to “Views from Various Trenches, Part I of II (Remembrance Day 2020)”

  1. Eloquent as always Ian. A question about the Gurkhas. I know that helmets were not standard issue at the start of the war- did the Gurkhas eventually adopt them, or did they stick with the turbans. I know Sikhs wear turbans for religious reasons, but I don’t think the Gurkhas are practitioners of that religion.

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