Great War on Carnic Alps: “La ragazza del mulo” / “The girl of the mule” by Italo Zandonella Callegher

People sometimes gaze upon a point and think that it could be the whole of the matter, forgetting so what stays on its margins and represents also a part of – often the first step to – the whole. This happens also in studying the Great War. If we talk for example about WWI and Dolomite front – which, in turn, is still today someway a “forgotten front” –, we will probably think at first at the main Alps scenarios of the conflicts, as for example the Sexten Dolomites, neglecting so the near Carnic subgroup, on the north-eastern edge of Italy. As this last entered in the Great War, the mountain ridge from Monte Croce Pass (Passo di Montecroce) to the Monte Croce Carnico Pass (Passo di Monte Croce Carnico) became suddenly a contested battleground between the Austrian Kaiserjäger (supported the first time also by volunteers and inhabitants of the valleys) and the Italian Alpini. A battleground, that remains still today at the margins of the WWI research focus. The new book of Italo Zandonella Callegher (La ragazza del mulo. 1915-1917: il massacro sulla Cresta di Confine, Mursia, 2012) aims to fill in this gap and tell the story of this twofold forgotten front, starting from the assumption that “there are not first and second league victims” and that the people fallen on the western Carnic summits deserve the same attention which is paid to those who fought on the Tofane, Marmolada, Ortigara, Tre Cime or Lagazuoi, to stay at the Dolomite front.

The Author, an Italian affirmed alpinist hailing from the Comelico, writer of mountain guides as well as of historical novels, does not deliver to the reader a “simple” reconstruction of the battles and casualties occurred in these places, which covers in any case the first – and longer – section of the book. His work is also a combination of different registers and perspectives, a mixture of different – yet intertwined – narrative lines. So, the accurate description of the WWI events on the Carnic Italian-Austrian border between 1915 and 1917 develops simultaneously to the report on the life of Luigia Concetta, also called Giséta: born in a small village of a valley at the feet of the Popera Mountain, her life was deeply influenced by the Great War and as the Italian Army withdrew to south in 1917, she wandered on the front line looking for food, but found only a mule. Her story delivers a testimony of the sufferance endured by the population in the Dolomite valleys, as the excerpts of diaries and witness reports of soldiers collected in a first appendix of the book also do for those struggling on the front. The Author integrates lastly in the historical and human account a very interesting insight into the geographical setting of this conflict front, offering to the reader in the second appendix a small guide of itineraries that can be undertaken in the region, as part of the in the 70es established trekking high-trail of the “Karnischer Höhenweg”.

The book is thus a tribute to the people struggling and falling on the less famous summits of e.g. Monte Rosso (Roteck) and Cavallino (Große Kinigat), to the civil population in the valleys, but also to the mountains. More than in the narrative framework of Giséta’s life, in the style or in the contribution to the history of the alpine war, the charming feature of Zandonella’s book is placed – at least for us – in the strong link between mountains and humans, Carnic Alps and Great War. Yes, because the book enable the reader to walk literally along the front line, to see the summits, the trenches and the valleys, to live visually thus the facts narrated in these pages, as long as the Carnic Alps are not just immobile and inanimate scenery of the WWI, they are living subjects of the story.

On the places described in this book we’d like therefore to address in conclusion once again our attention: Carnic Alps are maybe not a first touristic destination, they preserve however – and maybe also on account of this – an uncontaminated environment and, being in 1915 the borderland between the Hapsburg Empire and the Kingdom of Italy, the marks of the front line during WWI. From Passo Montecroce to the Peralba Group, and then Quaterna, Frugnoni, the Roteck summit, Cavallino, Chiadenis and Palombino Mountains: if you walk through all this mountains you can find still today trenches, observation turrets, tunnels, gun emplacements, caves dug into the rock (sometimes now collapsed or still standing). For those who have never been in these places it is quite hard to describe them, and due to the complex geology of the Region, it’s impossible to deliver a synthetic overview of the different peaks of this mountain ridge. Zandonella’s book succeeds in presenting even to the less informed reader a powerful introduction into the neglected history of the WWI in this region and into the geography of this part of the Carnic Alps. It’s therefore a pity that only the Italian public will be able to seize the charm that arises from the strong passion of the author for his mountains and the Great War (no translation into English is in fact for the moment planned). Fortunately the author has not only enriched his book with interesting pictures and maps. He has also kindly made available for WWI Bridges some snapshots he has took of the most important summits of this part of front line. We are glad therefore to offer them besides this short review of La ragazza del mulo (“The girl of the mule”), and the next post will be a photo-reportage by Italo Zandonella Callegher, to whom our thank is due. Stay tuned in the next days!

"So far from home / Si loin de chez eux". An Exhibition at Historial Péronne

The Historial de la Grande Guerre of Péronne, France, in cooperation with the Australian Embassy, as well as with the support of Australian Minister of Veteran Affairs and the Australian War Memorial Museum inaugurates on Tuesday 23rd April, at 18 o’clock , a new exhibition entitled So far from home / Si loin de chez eux. As the subtitle clarifies, this exhibition narrates the story of six Australians, who were engaged on the western front during the Great War. Their country, becoming an independent nation in 1901, decided to offer its support to England only on cultural and political grounds and joined the Allied forces from the beginning of the conflict. It refused however obligatory conscription, so that the Australian Army was made only of volunteers. We are talking about 417.000 people, among them 331.000 fought abroad. A first expedition corps – the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) – fought during the Dardanelles campaign, then moved on the Sinai and Palestine front. After Gallipoli infantry Divisions were formed in Australia, sent to France in 1916 and fielded by the British Army. The curators of the exhibition under the supervision of Prof. Jennifer Wellington, Yale University, choose five men and a woman and explores their different life-stories in order to tell us the contribution of the Australians during WWI.

Six different persons, six different stories. Frank Grose, because of some sight problems, could not serve as a soldier, so he served in the YMCA and became responsible for the “well-being” of the 1st Division of the Australian artillery. He and his assistant, Sergeant Jack Conn, assured to the troops the chance to take a bath, to enjoy some music or to practice some sport, to receive cigarettes and chocolate, to read newspaper or to send letters home. Tom  Cleary, instead, was a 39 years old electrician in Sydney before leaving for the French front 1915. He left his wife, enrolling as a volunteer, and recorded his war experience – which was also his only opportunity to venture and discover the world – in a diary. Much younger, only 18 years old, was Thomas Charles Richmmond Baker, from Adelaide, who  served in 1915 in the Middle-East campaign. Had already spent few years in Europe, as a student in Oxford, instead Frederick Septimus Kelly from Sidney: able airplane pilot and gifted musician, he entered in the Australian Army. Another name, another story, that of Douglas Grant: he was an aboriginal, born in the mountains of the Queensland. As his parents died suddenly, he was adopted by Robert Grant and his wife, who found Douglas, still a baby, while searching in the area objects for the Australian Museum of Sydney. A talented drawers, Douglas Grant enrolled and fought in France during the WWI. The Exhibitions tells finally also the story of a woman, Elisabeth Pearl Corkhill, from Sud New-Wales, who started serving the Army as nurse in Egypt from June 1915.

The exhibition will be opened 23th April 2013. Informative materials and audio guide will be at disposal to lead the visitors through the photographs and the materials. More information here.

Mars and Museum. European Museums during the First World War - International Conference (CfP)

One of the organizers
of this conference
If we talk about Great War and museums, we may think at first glance at those public places today dedicated to the WWI, as we have visited them several times in our countries or abroad. The connection can however be investigated also from another point of view: if we consider that museums existed even before the outbreak of the Great War, that they were endangered by the destructive force of the conflict and that they mutate - and thus someway live - in the course of events, then the "neglected" question will automatically rise: what happened to european museums and collections during the WWI? How were used the buildings and where were transported the collected pieces? And lastly which consequences - or opportunities - arose for the museums and their conception? To all those and many other questions aims to answer the international conference organised by the Technische Universität Berlin, the Zentralarchiv der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz and the Centre Marc Bloch Berlin, Université Panthéon-Assas Paris, that has to be held in Berlin September 2014. Here the Call for Paper, whose deadline is 30th April 2013.

Mars and Museum. European Museums during the First World War 
International Conference
organised by
Bénédicte Savoy (Technische Universität Berlin)
Petra Winter (Zentralarchiv der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz)
Christina Kott (Centre Marc Bloch Berlin, Université Panthéon-Assas Paris)
Date: September 18, 2014 - September 20, 2014
Location: Technische Universität Berlin, Strasse des 17. Juni 135, 10623 Berlin, and the Museum Hamburger Bahnhof, Invalidenstrasse 50-51, 10557 Berlin

Today it has almost been forgotten that not only the Second World War but also the First World War constituted a crucial break in the history of European museums. As a matter of fact, the Louvre was almost completely evacuated and the holdings sent to Toulouse and Blois. The Hermitage, in Saint Petersburg, was transformed into a military hospital for several years, and its collections were transported to Moscow. In Berlin, the marvelous coin collection from the Kaiser Friedrich Museum (today’s Bode Museum) was endangered since the Reichsbank, the National Bank of the German Reich, had made a claim on it as a guarantee for its gold. And the British Museum in London lost 11 of its curators to the war. On the Western as well as on the Eastern Front, museum activities were interrupted or disordered for many years due to destruction and evacuations. The acquisition of new works of art was difficult during and especially in the aftermath of the war. However, in many museums the war opened up unexpected opportunities to undertake museum reforms, create new displays, and make architectural changes. The history of European museums during the First World War has not yet been written, or if so then only within the framework of institutional histories of some of the large and middle-sized museums.
The aim of the scheduled conference is to highlight, for the first time, the fate of museum buildings, museum collections, and museum collaborators during the First World War in a transnational and comparative perspective. Structural similarities, as well as national characteristics, in the different museum war histories will be analyzed. The conference aims not only to reflect the transnational turn of museum studies but also intends to promote it by identifying gaps and desiderata for research.

The focus of papers - which may be case studies or comparative studies - should be on one of the following aspects:

1) Actors
Lines of action, scope, circulation, and experiences of museum collaborators within their home institutions or behind the front line. The role of women. Political and scientific positioning in the European “Cultural War.” Museum activities in war areas and occupied territories. Development of war-associated exhibitions.

2) Discourses
Involvement of museums as “temples of culture” in the battle against the “barbarian enemy,” by means of propagandist writings and lectures made by the different warring parties. Shaping of museum-specific argumentation lines in ethnological museums. Development of special terminologies at the interface between “art protection” and “art looting.” Museums and museum collections in the visual propaganda.

3) Art Works and collections
Evacuations and war losses, protective measures at and in museums. Restitution claims for single works of art or whole collections, looting plans. Maintained or interrupted exhibition activities. Transformation of museum buildings for war purposes. Art collections as financial factors. Organization of war exhibitions behind the front line. Acquisition politics, art market, and war. Plans for museum rearrangements and new buildings. Dealing with excavations under museum administration in front areas and in non-European regions.

Please send your submissions (approx. 1000 characters) for a 30-minute lecture as well as some short biographical notes by April 30, 2013 to Bénédicte Savoy ( and Christina Kott ( Conference languages are German, English, and French.

Italian Great War museums #2: Museo della Guerra Bianca in Adamello (Temù, Brescia)

One the rooms of this museum 
focused on war conditions on high mountains
An easy and direct connection with last mountain itinerary we suggested, the eighth one dedicated a few days ago to the Adamello massif, is the short introduction about another important Italian Great War Museum. In Italy we call it “Museo della Guerra Bianca in Adamello”, and you can translate this name into White War Museum, like an homage to the great book written by Mark Thompson. 
This museum is located in Temù, in the province of Brescia (T. + 39 0364 94617 – see the website for updated opening times), established in 1977 with the clear intent to tell the unbelievable vicissitudes of the war in the high mountain. The most of the relics were founded in the frozen areas of the Adamello. Its qualifying feature is the specialisation on high mountain war areas from the Stelvio pass to the massifs of Ortles-Cevedale and Adamello-Presanella, descending to the area of Lake of Garda. 

Three rooms develop a permanent, rich and well curated exhibition of artillery, military equipment, logistics, soldiers' belongings and do not forget the young generations (everybody should try not forget them while elaborating strategies to narrate World War One) with educational and didactic laboratories for children. What is really unique about this museum is the peculiar configuration of warfare at 3000m a.s.l., a kind of frozing hell that these rooms rebuild for the visitors. We should take into consideration that war fighted at such altitude is a unique trait of the war in Italy. In fact, if we think about the other war scenerios, we won't find anything similar to what happened in Adamello or, going Eastward, on the Marmolada. The recent findings of WWI soldiers' skeletons buried on the glaciers of Italian Alps represent the well preserved traces of living conditions that especially during the winters of war went beyond our imagination.

Africa and the First World War (CfP)

Can we always distinguish between a center and a periphery if we talk about a global conflict? Is there a center and a periphery on the surface of a globe?  It’s hard to recognize them. And if it's easy, if we can distinguish between a peripheral and a central area on a globe, we should ask why we can do that despite the basic geometrical rules and how these areas are interconnected. Thinking about “globalization” as a recent and primarily economical – only as a consequence cultural – process is maybe a sign of a common narrow-mindedness, especially if we refer to a global event as the WWI was, especially if we refer to a continent as the African one. That’s why we are glad to mention the constitution of a network and the organization of an upcoming conference on Africa and the First World War, promoted by the University of Lisboa and supported by other universities and institutions, that will investigate the topic considering all its historical and cultural aspects. Deadline for submission of proposal is 30th April 2013. Here the CfP.
Africa and the First World War

International Network for the Study of the Great War in Africa
Africa and the First World War
Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities | Universidade Nova de Lisboa
11-12 July 2013

Call for papers

Since the end of the 19th century Africa stood out as an agent in the globalization process; acting both as an element of direct action, particularly through the exploitation of its natural resources in the widest sense possible, but also through the unique features of its political situation as regards international relations. During the “Belle Époque” the network of transactions of goods and people had spread considerably, bringing remote and peripheral places, like the African territories, closer to the centre of the world-economy.

In 1914 when the First World War started all major European powers, with the exception of the Habsburg Empire, ruled over territories outside Europe. Although most of the clashes have occurred on European soil, the involvement of the African continent played an essential role within the Great War, which was a fundamental expression of the globalization of the conflict: for over four years Africa provided human and material resources on an unprecedented scale to the Western Front. From the “black continent” standpoint, it is worth to note, how the First World War contrasted in terms of objectives, impact, scale and duration with the many conflicts that erupted throughout the nineteenth century, conducted mainly against native populations, and motivated by local and limited objectives.

The first World War represented a defining moment, introducing a profound break in the course of European and global contemporary history, whose rupturing and long-lasting effects significantly involved, marked and influenced the population and the history of all European empires in Africa. Yet, this particular front continues to be one of the less studied aspects of the Great War.

The 1st Meeting of the International Network for the Study of the Great War in Africa includes papers delivered by invited speakers and presentations submitted through a call for papers. Presentation proposals related to the following topics are welcome:

·   the dispute of empires;
·   the mobilization and the strategy of the European powers toward war in Africa;
·   the protection, preservation and maintenance of the integrity of colonial empires;
·   race and empire;
·   social and culture history of soldiers in colonial armies;
·   war and religion in Africa;
·   war and peace in Africa.

The selection of proposals will be guided by the purpose of ensuring maximum quality and diversity of topics.

Submission: 24th March to April 30th 2013
Results announcement: May 15th 2013
Please submit: Paper title, abstract (700 words), affiliation and academic CV (1 page)
Working languages: Portuguese and English (simultaneous translation to be confirmed)   

Organizing committee:
Maria Fernanda Rollo (IHC and FCSH-UNL)
Ana Paula Pires (IHC-FCSH-UNL)
Scientific committee:
Ana Paula Pires (IHC and FCSH-UNL)
Anne Samson (to be confirmed) (Great War in East Africa Association)
Maria Fernanda Rollo (IHC and FCSH-UNL)
Michael Neiberg (US Army War College)
Michelle Moyd (Indiana University – Bloomington)
Pierre Purseigle (Yale University)
Remy Porte (Service Historique de la Défense)
Richard Fogarty (University at Albany – SUNY)
Santanu Das (King’s College – University of London)

Please send your identification (name, institutional affiliation and email address) and the paper abstract via email to:

First World War one day itineraries through Italy. Suggestion no. 9. Adamello Massif and Rifugio Mandrone

Glacier front at Forcella Payer
Short after the begin of the conflict, the Adamello massif became one of the highest front during World War I. The Italian-Austrian border ran at that time across two important mountain ranges, the Ortles-Cevedale and the Adamello-Brenta range, where the so called “white war” was fought between 1915 and 1918. This Alpine War, lead on positions at 3000m above the sea level and – as a consequence – in difficult climatic and geographic conditions was, especially in winter, a double fight – against the enemy and the nature – surviving with temperatures dropping deep below zero also during the day. The Adamello range was a crucial point for both Armies.  For the Italians controlling it would assure the command on Val di Genova and then on Trentino. On the other side, the Austro-Hungarian Army looked at this massif as the entering pass to the Pianura Padana and Milan. It is therefore no surprise, that this mountains were the setting of bitter battles and became thus a “white hell”. Many marks of WWI can be seen even today: trenches, bunkers and fortress are everywhere on the three peaks of the Adamello and relicts, remnants, weapons and even soldiers bodies emerge every years, as the glaciers of Adamello melt and release them.
To approach Adamello range and discover the “white war” we suggest a first one-day-itinerary to Rifugio Mandrone, which permits, in the case, an extension up to the glaciers. This itinerary – at least till Mandrone refuge – offers no particular difficulty and requires only proper trekking equipment and training. It takes in all about 5 hours and a difference of height of about 850m.

You can reach Malga Bedole driving up to Val di Genova, along the river Sarca. During the summer, considering the touristic traffic, the road is partially closed to private vehicles. It is in any case possible to take a shuttle-bus in Carisolo or Pinzolo, the two village at opening of the Valley of Genova (For further informations call the tourist-office in Pinzolo: +39 0465 501007). From Malga Bedole you can reach in about 15 minutes Rifugio Bedole, behind which starts the path n. 212, that enters immediately the wood. For the first part the steep path twists and turns among the trees and small bridges over the runlets coming from the glaciers, then the ascent becomes milder and crosses high meadows with a great view on the front glaciers of Mandrone and Lobbie. This is a magnificent landscape, especially if you think about both human and geological history deposited here, as you can learn as soon as you reach the Center Julius Payer, dedicated to the Austrian officer who first climbed Adamello in September 1864 (open from June to September, for informations contact the Società degli Alpinisti Tridentini). The Center was founded in 1994, renovating the Capanna Mandron, and shows a permanent exhibition dedicated to geology and glaciology of the Adamello range made of “tonalite”, a volcanic rock which is an unicum in the Alps context. There’s also an observatory and a small botanic garden, that conserves many species of plants and flowers of the high mountain environments endemic to small nival areas of the near glacier. Adamello glacier is in fact the largest in Italy. But we said both human and geological history. Therefore we recommend to visit not only the Center Julius Payer, but to have also a look at the ruins of the near Leipziger Hütte: existing since 1878, it was one of the oldest huts in Trentino and served during the Great War as Austrian shelter, before the Italian Army conquered the place in spring 1916 after the “battle of the glaciers”. A last stop-over has to take place at the tiny – yet touching – WWI war cemetery nearside.

Lake ascending from Rifugio
Mandrone to Forcella Payer
After all that, we guess one really deserves a break at the Rifugio Mandrone, the destination point, which is only 10 minutes walk far away. Here you can rest and eat something. According to the time, forces and interest at your disposal, you can chose between these two suggestions, before coming back home. You can have a short walk near the Refugee and have a look to the small lakes besides, lie down on the grass and look around, at the rocks, the glaciers and the sky. If you want to undertake an extension to the itinerary, you can follow the unnumbered path which starts behind the Rifugio Mandrone and leads to saddle. From the Forcella Payer (2978) different paths run on the glacier. This would cost however a lot of time and require also three further prerequisites: you have to sleep at Rifugio Mandrone, in order to have enough hours of light for your walk on the glaciers; you must have an appropriate equipment (climbers, ropes, etc); lastly, if you’re not a very high skilled climber, you should be accompanied by an alpine guide, since the glaciers are really very dangerous environments. Anyway, reaching the Payer saddle takes only 1 hour from Rifugio Mandrone and the view on the glacier plateau is worth, even if you cannot walk on it.
The descent follows then the same path of the ascent to Rifugio Mandrone and then, with path n. 212, to Malga Bedole.