Copyright 2017 by Richard O. Aichele & Information Works Inc.
Missing In Action
Millions Of Men Were Sent to the Great War's Western Front Battlefields.
This is a tribute to the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who disappeared in the explosions and mud.
"For the last half hour our men watched and held themselves ready while the screeming of the shells grew wilder and the roar of the bursts quickened into a drumming. .. The moment had come. Then for one wild confused moment they knew that they were running towards that unknown land which they could see in the dust ahead. For a moment, they saw the parapet with the wire in front of it, and began, as they ran, to pick out in their minds a path through the wire. Then, too often, for too many of them, the ground they were crossing flew up in shards and sods and gleams of fire from the enemy shells, and those runners never reached the wire, but saw, perhaps a flash and the earth rushing nearer and then saw nothing more at all, forever and forever and forever."
That small event at the Somme in July 1916 described by JohnMasefield, an English writer, had been preceded by days of English heavy artillery bombardment of the German trenches on the other side of No Man's Land as the English infantry waited for order to attack. The soldiers on both sides were fighting on and for a wartorn usually barren landscape as they lived in trenches and underground bunkers only hundreds of yards apart from each other. Between them was No Man's Land crossed only when one side attacked the other after subjecting the other side's defenders to artillery bombardments.
It was scene was repeated millions of times during the years 1914 to 1918. They were German, French, English, Austrian, Belgian, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, Italian and later American soldiers on both sides who fell as bullets and explosions ravaged the ground and everything on it. Recovery of wounded soldiers who initially survived in No Man's Land was rarely possible. Recovery of bodies was unlikely. Masefield described a typical scene in the Somme: "The bodies of two English soldiers were buried and then unburied by the rain as they lay in No Man's Land outside the English wire in what was one of the lonliest places in the field...They are among many English graves marked hurriedly by the man's rifle thrust into the ground." The hundreds of thousands never recovered simply became a part of the battlefields' earth.
If possible, the dead were buried by their comrades in field graves or field cemetaries. Behind the Front Line, the burials in times of warfare quiet times far enough behind the front trench line shellings. This Wurttembergishe 49th Feld Artillery Regiment burial photo of a deceased German Army soldier surrounded by his fellow soldiers is one example. Within hours, enemy artillery shells could have been turning up the earth again.
(Right) A warfront cemetary for soldiers of the Wurttembergishe 185th Feld Artillery Regiment after fighting in the Champagne Region. Drawn by the German Army artist Erwin Aichele.
In 1924, eight years after the Battle of Verdun the American journalist and war correspondent Webb Miller went to the Verdun battlefields and wrote this article: /p>
"I visited a grizzled French priest who lived on the summit near Fort Vaux. He had dedicated his life to gathering bones which he placed in a temporary mortuary. There I saw piles of skulls with great jagged shrapnel holes, shattered arm and leg bones, and bits of skeletons, all of which he had collected. They were to be placed in fifteen huge caskets, one for each of the fifteen sectors of the battlefield. Each casket in turn would represent thousands of unknown soldiers. The caskets were to be placed in a huge memorial which the French were constructing on the hills.".
It staggered the imagination to think that more than 300,000 French bodies were never identified and thousands upon thousands never found; that the greater part of the 600,000 German dead also remained unidentified While leaving Verdun in the grimy train I caught a brief glimpse of what this place meant to sorrowing millions.
In one corner of the shabby train compartment huddled a thin, careworn old German woman, poorly dressed in obviously homemade clothing. As the train drew up the slopes she nervously brushed the moisture from the rain swept window for a last look at the desolate hills where more than 600,000 of her countrymen had been slaughtered. Then she subsided into the corner, weeping quietly; furtively wiping her eyes with a sodden handkerchief. I asked if she had lost relatives in the battle of Verdun. She broke into tears. 'Yes, my two sons and my husband. Nobody knows where they fell. I could only walk over the terrible fields. I have been saving eight years to make this trip. I can never do it again. Everything is gone. Oh, this horrible war!"
The train arrived at a station and the German woman got off and a French peasant woman came into the compartment. Miller got into conversation with her and told her about the German woman. The French woman kept silent for a few minutes, then tears filled her eyes. "Our countries were enemies but I can't help pitying that poor German woman. It must be terrible to come all this way and not know where her dead lie. I come every year at this time. My husband, my son, and my brother are up on those hills. We know where their bodies lie and that is some consolation."
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The poignant Trench of Bayonets Memorial to the 170 unknown French soldiers of the 1st Battalion of the 137th who endured a heavy bombardment on June 11, 1916. While waiting for an enemy assault, their rifles with fixed bayonets were propped up against the parapet within reach for they had in their hands bombs to be used as the first means of repelling the probable attack. Then heavy shells falling in front, behind and on the trench collapsed it instantaneously leaving only the bayonets protruding.
"That the hands of the sisters Death and Night, incessantly, softly, wash again and ever again this soil'd world. . .
For my enemy is dead - a man devine as myself is dead."
Walt Whitman, American writer
"And for what?"
Eugen Aichele, German Army kanonier 1916-1918
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It is one hundred years since the battles of the Great War on the land that was the Western Front stretching from the English Channel southward across Belgium, Luxemburg, Netherlands and France to the border of Switzerland. Artifacts of that war including parts of guns, helmets, grenades and shells are frequently found and removed. Among the still thousands of buried shells are gas shellls which as they rust through leak their poisones contents into the ground killing all vegetation within a 20 or 30 foot radius.
Also along that path are the places where thousands of soldiers from both sides who died where they fell in the trenches, shell holes, and in the barbed wire. As the incessant shell fire churned up the ground they became part of the earth they had fought on. Many have been located and properly buried over the years. More listed as Missing In Action will forever be out there under the battlefields where they fell.
Never Forget the Lessons Those Who Served Learned
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