by Richard van Pelt, WWI Correspondent
Sorting out the events of the first two weeks of the January, this is what a Marion County resident would have made of events:
Jan. 8—Allies gain north of Soissons, near Rheims, and in Alsace; French Alpine troops use skis in gaining an advantage in Alsace.
Jan. 9—Germans retake Steinbach and Burnhaupt; French take Perthes and gain near Soupir.
Jan. 10—French cut German railway lines to prevent reserves from coming to the relief of Altkirch.
Jan. 11—Allies, attacking from Perthes, are trying to cut German rail communications.
Jan. 12—French attempt offensive near Soissons and Perthes; they are checked in Alsace; British forces at the front are steadily increasing in number.
Jan. 13—Germans, reinforced, win victory at Soissons, forcing French to abandon five miles of trenches and to cross the Aisne, leaving guns and wounded; heights of Vregny are won in this fight by the Germans under the eyes of the Kaiser; Germans take 3,150 prisoners and fourteen guns in two days’ fighting.
Jan. 15—French are calm over the Soissons defeat; British gain near La Bassée.
What is taking place, from the perspective of a reader, is an example of the fog of war. The daily headlines report details that may only later make sense as the larger picture becomes clear. These headlines have been part of the First Champagne Offensive, which began in December of 1914 and would last until mid-March. For four months the French and British would fight along a line from the Belgian coast along the Yser to Verdun. The allies gained very little, attempting to go against a force of well-entrenched Germans. Casualties for the French and British would exceed 90,000.
Concluding his descriptions of conditions in the belligerent countries, Irvin Cobb describes the situations in Holland and Britain:
In Holland I saw the people of an already crowded country wrestling valorously with the problem of striving to feed and house and care for the enormous numbers of penniless refugees who had come out of Belgium. I saw worn-out groups of peasants huddled on railroad platforms and along the railroad tracks, too weary to stir another step.
In England I saw still more thousands of these refugees, bewildered, broken by misfortune, owning only what they wore upon their backs, speaking an alien tongue, strangers in a strange land. I saw, as I have seen in Holland, people of all classes giving of their time, their means, and their services to provide some temporary relief for these poor wanderers who were without a country. I saw the new recruits marching off, and I knew that for the children many of them were leaving behind there would be no Santa Claus unless the American people out of the fullness of their own abundance filled the Christmas stockings and stocked the Christmas larders.
And seeing these things, I realized how tremendous was the need for organized and systematic aid then and how enormously that need would grow when Winter came—when the soldiers shivered in the trenches, and the hospital supplies ran low, as indeed they have before now begun to run low, and the winds searched through the holes made by the cannon balls and struck at the women and children cowering in their squalid and desolated homes. From my own experiences and observations I knew that more nurses, more surgeons, more surgical necessities, and yet more, past all calculating, would be sorely needed when the plague and famine and cold came to take their toll among armies that already were thinned by sickness and wounds.
The American Red Cross, by the terms of the Treaty of Geneva, gives aid to the invalided and the injured soldiers of any army and all the armies. If any small word from me, attempting to describe actual conditions, can be of value to the American Red Cross in its campaign of mercy, I write it gladly. I wish only that I had the power to write lines which would make the American people see the situation as it is now—which would make them understand how infinitely worse that situation must surely become during the next few months.
“Illegal Boosting of Wheat and Flour Prices to be Probed” headlined the paper for this date. War in Europe and the failure of Australia’s crop “has made the world’s bread problem a serious one,” according to George Zabriskie, a representative of the Pillsbury Flour Company. He states that “if the nations of Europe continue to buy wheat at the present rate, America’s supply would be exhausted by March.”
The need for American flour has led to “between 75 and 80 percent of the surplus wheat in the United States