New Account of America’s First WW1 Offensive: FIRST OVER THERE – THE ATTACK ON CANTIGNY

cantigny matt davenport

Former soldier and now author Matthew J. Davenport’s new account of the first sustained American offensive of the First World War – the Battle of Cantigny – provides a fresh look at this May 1918 battle in France.  FIRST OVER THERE – THE ATTACK ON CANTIGNY (MacMillan 2015), makes use of carefully researched primary source materials to weave together an account of how the men of the US 1st Infantry Division went “over the top” to take and hold the frontline village of Cantigny.  From the publisher: “At first light on Tuesday, May 28th, 1918, waves of American riflemen from the U.S. Army’s 1st Division climbed from their trenches, charged across the shell-scarred French dirt of no-man’s-land, and captured the hilltop village of Cantigny from the grip of the German Army. Those who survived the enemy machine-gun fire and hand-to-hand fighting held on for the next two days and nights in shallow foxholes under the sting of mustard gas and crushing steel of artillery fire.”

With the village of Cantigny falling to the Imperial German 18th Army during Ludendorff’s spring 1918 offensive, newly arrived American troops were placed in the sector opposite the village in April 1918.  The following month, the US 1st Infantry Division was tasked with capturing and holding Cantigny in what would be the first American offensive operation of the war.  After weeks of enduring German shelling and poison gas attacks, the Doughboys of “The Big Red One” moved forward from their trenches to take and hold the ruins of the village despite numerous strong counterattacks in the succeeding days.  Though a local operation which cost the AEF some 1,600 casualties, the Battle of Cantigny demonstrated the emerging prowess of Pershing’s Doughboys.

Davenport’s new book introduces the reader to many all-but-forgotten Americans who took part in the battle and deftly sets the stage for the coming centennial of American participation in “The War to End All Wars.”

Matthew Davenport is a US Army veteran who now practices law in North Carolina.  For more details on this exciting new book, visit the author’s website here.

English Author To Speak in Upstate New York on WW1 Novel

Author Elizabeth Speller

Author Elizabeth Speller

Novelist Elizabeth Speller will travel from England to Syracuse, NY, in March 2015 to speak on her 2013 novel The First of July (published in the UK as At Break of Day).  “CNY Reads One Book”, a program sponsored by the Onondaga County Public Library and various community partners, will host Ms. Speller on March 22 at the Onondaga County War Memorial.  Under the program, members of the public are encouraged read selected books and engage with the authors.

At Break of Day

The First of July is novel centering on four characters from widely different backgrounds who are brought together in France on the fateful morning of July 1, 1916 – the calamitous first day of the Battle of the Somme –  an event which, perhaps more than any other, shaped Britain’s collective memory of World War 1.  “This is a novel about bicycles and coffin-making, the heyday of the great London department stores, and a hospital run entirely by women” explains Author Elizabeth Speller.  “It explores French river navigation, church organs, pigeons, international politics and early film, and finds philandering, friendship, deception, duty, and the terrifyingly random operation of fate.   A story of a young century with old grievances and young men and women with plans and hopes. It is a journey through music heard as colour, and, perhaps inevitably, about doubt and love and loss. It is also about war. Specifically war on a single day: the middle day of the year in the middle year of the Great War. As July 1st 1916 unfolds into the worst ever disaster in British military history, the lives and hopes of four men collide over a few desperate hours.”

Elizabeth Speller has authored four books along with numerous poems.  To learn more on her writings, visit her website here.

To learn more on  the “CNY Reads One Book” program on March 22, see the story here.

New Book “The Lost Sketchbooks” Is ‘Time capsule’ for the American Doughboy Experience


A kind of visual time capsule, The Lost Sketchbooks: A Young Artist in the Great War, by Rex Passion, provides an extraordinary and previously unknown window into the experiences of an American Doughboy in the First World War. For some 90 years, the original wartime drawings and watercolors of artist and illustrator Edward Shenton, who went to France as a soldier in the 28th Infantry Division in 1918, had been locked away; recently rediscovered, they form the basis of this rich portrait of American participation in “The War to End All Wars.”

Harry Edward Shenton, Jr., was born in Pottstown, Pennsylvania in 1895 and later grew up in Philadelphia. Throughout his childhood and adolescence, he showed extraordinary talent as a sketch artist, and by the time he graduated from West Philadelphia High School in 1916, Ed, as he was known, had served as the art editor, and editor-in-chief of the school newspaper The Western while enrolling in studies independently at the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Arts. Joining the Pennsylvania National Guard after high school graduation, he found himself a member of 28th Division’s 103rd Engineers at the time of America’s entry into the war.

sketchbooks003  sketchbooks004

Mobilization for war saw the 103rd Engineers engaged in training at both Camp Meade, Maryland, and Camp Hancock, Georgia, until sailing to Europe in the late spring of 1918. Before shipping out for training, Ed Shenton stocked up on sketchbooks and art supplies which he carried with him through his entire wartime experience through his return home in 1919. Throughout his service, he continually documented what he and those around him witnessed, producing hundreds of sketches and watercolor paintings which captured the life of the American Doughboy in all its facets – from the routine and humorous, to scenes depicting the shock and pity of war.


Once in France, Ed Shenton and the 103rd Engineers went into the front line in July 1918 at St. Agnan when the last phase of Ludendorff’s spring offensive was halted. Later that summer, Ed and his fellow Engineers operated in and around the frontline town of Fismes, building or repairing while under fire some 14 bridges that allowed troops, equipment and ambulances to access the front line. In the fall of 1918, they advanced with the American 1st Army in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive building and repairing roads and railways, and maintaining and camouflaging key positions in the American drive. After the guns fell silent on November 11, the 28th Division remained in France until the following spring. Throughout the first months of 1919, Ed drew scenes of local color showing rebuilding and recovery in war torn France, and reflecting the attitudes and experiences of the Doughboys waiting to return home.


After the war Ed Shenton’s remarkable collection of Doughboy art was of little interest as post-war Americans sought to forget The World War and the political turmoil generated at home in its aftermath. His sketchbooks – some cut in half so that he had been able to carry them in a uniform pocket in France – were carefully packed away, and Ed went on to a distinguished career that spanned some 50 years as an illustrator and author of numerous books and magazines. Through a fortunate connection with Ed Shenton’s son, Ned, author Rex Passion has been able bring to the light of publication, after more than 90 years, the remarkable drawings and paintings created by this soldier-artist during World War I. Carefully researching the history and of the 103rd Engineers, Passion was pieced together Ed Shenton’s Doughboy journey, writing a compelling narrative context for the selected artwork.   The Lost Sketchbooks: A Young Artist in the Great War is a genuine gift to Americans of today as they strive to connect with and understand the meaning and impact of America’s experience in World War I.

For more information, visit the book’s website here.




For English-speaking students of the First World War, personal accounts depicting the French perspective are comparatively few.  Though published in France in 1978, the new English translation of The World War 1 Notebooks of Corporal Louis Barthas, Barrelmaker 1914-1918 by Edward M. Strauss represents a major achievement in the field of World War 1 French literature in the English speaking world.

From the publisher, Yale University Press:

“Along with millions of other Frenchmen, Louis Barthas, a thirty-five-year-old barrelmaker from a small wine-growing town, was conscripted to fight the Germans in the opening days of World War I. Corporal Barthas spent the next four years in near-ceaseless combat, wherever the French army fought its fiercest battles: Artois, Flanders, Champagne, Verdun, the Somme, the Argonne. Barthas’ riveting wartime narrative, first published in France in 1978, presents the vivid, immediate experiences of a frontline soldier.

This excellent new translation brings Barthas’ wartime writings to English-language readers for the first time. His notebooks and letters represent the quintessential memoir of a “poilu,” or “hairy one,” as the untidy, unshaven French infantryman of the fighting trenches was familiarly known. Upon Barthas’ return home in 1919, he painstakingly transcribed his day-to-day writings into nineteen notebooks, preserving not only his own story but also the larger story of the unnumbered soldiers who never returned. Recounting bloody battles and endless exhaustion, the deaths of comrades, the infuriating incompetence and tyranny of his own officers, Barthas also describes spontaneous acts of camaraderie between French poilus and their German foes in trenches just a few paces apart. An eloquent witness and keen observer, Barthas takes his readers directly into the heart of the Great War. ”

For more information, visit the Yale University Press web page here.

New Biography of American Ace Eddie Rickenbacker Released

Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, leading American Ace of World War 1, seated in a Nieuport 28 figher.

Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, leading American Ace of World War 1, seated in a Nieuport 28 figher.

America’s highest-scoring flying ace of World War 1, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, was a household celebrity to Americans of the First World War era.  A pioneer race car driver, Rickenbacker went on to fame with the American Air Service’s 94th Aero Squadron in 1918, and was ultimately credited with shooting down 27 German planes in the last months of the First World War.  Following the Armistice, he went on to become an airline executive, and even survived an epic period adrift at sea during World War II.  Author John F. Ross takes a fresh look at this American hero from the last century.

From publisher St. Martin’s Press:

“At the turn of the twentieth century two new technologies—the car and airplane—took the nation’s imagination by storm as they burst, like comets, into American life. The brave souls that leaped into these dangerous contraptions and pushed them to unexplored extremes became new American heroes: the race car driver and the flying ace.

“No individual did more to create and intensify these raw new roles than the tall, gangly Eddie Rickenbacker, who defied death over and over with such courage and pluck that a generation of Americans came to know his face better than the president’s. The son of poor, German-speaking Swiss immigrants in Columbus, Ohio, Rickenbacker overcame the specter of his father’s violent death, a debilitating handicap, and, later, accusations of being a German spy, to become the American military ace of aces in World War I and a Medal of Honor recipient. He and his high-spirited, all-too-short-lived pilot comrades, created a new kind of aviation warfare, as they pushed their machines to the edge of destruction—and often over it—without parachutes, radios, or radar.

Enduring Courage is the electrifying story of the beginning of America’s love affair with speed—and how one man above all the rest showed a nation the way forward. No simple daredevil, he was an innovator on the racetrack, a skilled aerial dualist and squadron commander, and founder of Eastern Air Lines. Decades after his heroics against the Red Baron’s Flying Circus, he again showed a war-weary nation what it took to survive against nearly insurmountable odds when he and seven others endured a harrowing three-week ordeal adrift without food or water in the Pacific during World War II.”

For more information on this new WW1 title, visit the publisher’s website here.


SOLDIERS IN FUR AND FEATHERS Explores the Role of Animals in the First World War


Researched and written by noted American dog trainer Susan Bulanda, SOLDIERS IN FUR AND FEATHERS : ANIMALS THAT SERVED IN WORLD WAR I – ALLIED FORCES culls together intriguing facts and stories surrounding the uses of animals during the First World War.  From guard, messenger and ambulance dogs, to carrier pigeons, as well as transport animals such as horses, donkeys and camels, Bulanda recounts many all-but-forgotten tales of animals on the front lines.

From publisher Alpine Publications:

“Dodging bullets, leaping over water-filled shell holes and wading through belly deep mud, faithful messenger dogs ran as fast as they could to deliver lifesaving messages. At the same time, miles away, a small determined pigeon flew high, out of the range of German snipers who wanted to prevent her from delivering important statistics to headquarters. From mascots to donkeys, camels, and pigeons, these animals provided life-saving support as well as an emotional bond that was truly unique.

Soldiers in Fur and Feathers reveals fascinating true stories of the heroic animals that assisted the Allied Forces during World War I-stories that have, for the most part, been forgotten. As we approach the 100th anniversary of WWI, this important book will help preserve the role of the animals that served. Who were they, why were they used, how were they selected, how did they serve, and what became of them? Soldiers in Fur and Feathers answers those questions. An award-winning author who is a certified animal behavior consultant and expert trainer, Bulanda has factored the human/animal bond, with which all pet lovers will identify, into her accounts.”

For more information on this new book, visit the publisher’s website here.

Newest English Translation of Czech Novel GOOD SOLDIER SVEJK

An illustration by Josef Lada showing Svejk reporting for induction into the Austro-Hungarian army despite claims of rheumatism.

An illustration by Josef Lada showing Svejk reporting for induction into the Austro-Hungarian army despite claims of rheumatism.

Jaroslav Hasek’s classic satirical novel THE FATEFUL ADVENTURES OF THE GOOD SOLDIER SVEJK has been translated over the years into some 60 languages.  The newest English translation of the novel’s four volumes by Americans Zenny Sadlon and Emmett Joyce and is currently available in print.

Hasek completed three of an anticipated six volumes of the novel before his death in 1923.  The unfinished draft of the fourth was finished by Czech journalist Karel Vanek.  THE FATEFUL ADVENTURES OF THE GOOD SOLDIER SVEJK is a work of extreme satire which follows the fortunes of Josef Svejk, a World War 1 Czech soldier who feigns, or possibly feigns – the decision is up to the reader- imbecility to outwit the Austro-Hungarian authorities, ultimately exposing the hypocrisy and the futility of war.

From the publisher:

“If you enjoyed Heller’s Catch-22, you’ll enjoy the Good Soldier Svejk. But Svejk is a far more subtle and complex and interesting character than Yossarian. Here we have a unique and comic form of rebellion. Here we have a character whose unassuming behavior repeatedly shows up the stupidity of the people and the system that have labeled him as stupid. Here we have an ordinary man-of-the-street repeatedly tripping up officers and government officials, making a mockery of them, while seeming to maintain a childlike, almost holy innocence. He’s a confidence man posing as a holy fool. His is the wisdom of the streets, the wisdom of the downtrodden playing on the naivete of those in authority.”

For more information on the newest English translation, click here.


Publishers Face Challenge in WW1 Literature Says WALL STREET JOURNAL

Original cover for Hemingway's classic novel A FAREWELL TO ARMS

Original cover for Hemingway’s classic novel A FAREWELL TO ARMS

According to the WALL STREET JOURNAL, over the past 53 years some 12,500 books on World War I topics have been published in America, compared to more than 43,000 on World War II over the same period.  On the whole Americans, have been far less interested in the First World War, perhaps due to an inability to place the American experience “Over There” in its proper context.

With the coming of the centenary of World War I, however, US  publishers are looking to capitalize on renewed interest in the war as they release and market new titles, both non-fiction and fiction, as well as re-release some of the classics.  Whether in marketing or in format, publishing houses are looking to present new works which tap in to trends among modern readers.

Harlem Hellfighters

Among the new releases will be THE HARLEM HELLFIGHTERS, a graphic novel from Broadway Books based on the  15th New York Infantry by Max Brooks, author of THE ZOMBIE SURVIVAL GUIDE and WORLD WAR Z.  Earlier this year, Harper Collins timed the release of the historical novel SOMEWHERE IN FRANCE to coincide with the American start of the latest season of the popular television drama “Downton Abbey.”

Among the classics to be re-released are Eric Maria Remarque’s ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, along with Hemingway’s A FAREWELL TO ARMS.

For more information on the trends in World War 1 books to be released in the coming years, see THE WALL STREET JOURNAL story here.



New Biography of Woodrow Wilson to be Released September 2013

The Big Four 1919: l-r Orlando of Italy, Lloyd-George of Great Britain, Clemenceau of France, and Wilson of the United States.

The Big Four 1919: l-r Orlando of Italy, Lloyd-George of Great Britain, Clemenceau of France, and Wilson of the United States.

Award winning author A. Scott Berg’s latest book Wilson will take a fresh look at the President best known for his leadership during World War I and his role on the international stage at the Paris peace conference which followed.

A graduate of Princeton University, A. Scott Berg won a Pulitzer Prize for his 1998 biography of Charles Lindbergh.  His biography of Woodrow Wilson is due to be released on September 10, 2013.  Rather than portray the purely political or diplomatic sides of Wilson, Berg’s goal was to dig deeper into the personality of Wilson in order to give the reader an internalized view of the 28th President of the United States.

For more information, see the Publisher’s Weekly story here.

Novel Set in WW1 Revolves Around Australian Nurses

Prolific author and playwright Thomas Keneally.

Prolific author and playwright Thomas Keneally.

Award-winning Australian author Thomas Keneally’s new novel The Daughters of Mars is set during World War I.  Main characters Sally and Naomi Dorrance are practicing nurses at the start of the war; they volunteer and embark with the ANZAC troops bound for Gallipoli in 1915.  When their ship is torpedoed in the Aegean Sea, they endure and survive.  Ultimately, they reach Europe to experience the horrors of caring for the wounded and dying on the Western Front.

Thomas Keneally is best known for the historical novel Schindler’s Ark (1982) which became the basis for the film “Schindler’s List”.

For more information, see the review from the Dallas News here.