"Harmonies of the Homefront". A music exhibition in Kansas City

How music influenced not only the morale of soldiers in the trenches and the battle fields, but also the public opinion of the citizens at home in favor of the First World War is the topic analyzed by the new exhibition of the National WWI Museum in Kansas City, entitled Harmonies of the Homefront. Under the supervision of the guest exhibition curator and music professor Dr. Kristin Griffeath, the multimedia exhibit aims to grasp the inner feelings and emotions of the generation of Americans – but not only – who faced the Great War from their home. So the collective fears, preoccupations, hopes and reliefs are depicted with an astonishing immediacy by the popular songs of those years, including title such as “I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier”, maybe the most representative musical manifesto of the pacifist movement in the USA before the country entered the WWI, which gives voice to a lonely mother who lost her son in the war. Or hit-songs like “It's a long way to Tipperary”. Open until October 27th 2013, the exhibition is introduced very well in the web page of the museum where you can also listen few songs.

First World War one day itineraries through Italy. Suggestion no. 10: the trenches of Nagià Grom

Trenches of Nagià Grom
Courtesy: Gruppo Alpini di Mori
If you search “Nagià Grom” in google-maps or on an “official” atlas you’ll probably find nothing that match with. And yet it exists and it is a mountain, no less! Sometimes called Nagià, sometimes Grom, this little summit near Rovereto, south of Trento, was another nerve center of the boundary line between Italy and the Austrian Empire during WWI. Although the political border run since the Treaty of Vienna through the ridge of Monte Baldo, east of Lake Garda, the Austrian Army started to fortify his confines before the beginning of WWI, placing a defensive system on a backward line, in front of Monte Altissimo di Nago, along the lake of Loppio till the Monte Biaena that overlooks Rovereto and the Valsugana. The south-eastern offshoot of Monte Biaena is the Nagià-Grom, controlling part of Val of Gresta, i.e. overlooking on the one hand the village of Mori, on the other hand Valle San Felice. The Austro-Hungarians started setting position for artillery and observer and digging trenches on Nagià-Grom since spring 1915.
As the Great War started the whole valley was evacuated: men able to fight were enlisted, the other were sent to other part of the Empire and all suspected people (due to political or cultural reasons) were internalized with their family in detention camps. While the Italian Alpini troupes conquered already the first day (24th May 1915) the Monte Altissimo, the Austrian Army established their front line along Val of Gresta and sheltered among others behind the fortifications on Nagià Grom. During almost the whole war both Armies kept their positions from where they bombarded fiercely the enemy. From the beginning of the conflict a battalion of Standschützen – men aged over 45 and youths under 18, i.e. too old or too young for active service, who were grouped however in civil defense corps – fought and died on Nagià Grom. To their memory is also dedicated a commemorative monument that will be inaugurated on 25th and 26th May 2013. (Photo Courtesy: Graziano Simonini). Further information here.

The monument to the Standschützen
(Photo courtesy Graziano Simonini)
This ceremony is an interesting occasion to visit the trenches and fortification on Nagià Grom that represent an impressive historical document of this chapter of WWI in Italy. Thanks to the praiseworthy renovation works carried on by the Alpini group of Mori, the summit and its paths – that go through trenches, cooking and recovery shelters, observers and artillery positions –  are now fully walkable. But this groups of volunteers, to whom is due the recovering of more than a 1Km of trenches on an area of about 35.000 square meters, is also involved in the cultural promotion of Nagià Grom, in order to make everybody– and especially the young people – aware of the history of the Great War in this valley. The home page of Nagia Grom abounds in technical and historical information, and although no English version is available, the great amount of photos – some of them has been kindly made available for us here – shows how interesting this place is.

Trenches of Nagià Grom
Courtesy: Gruppo Alpini di Mori
That’s why, for all those who’d like to visit the trenches on Nagià Grom but have no chance to take part at the guided tours during the forthcoming weekend, we’d like to suggest also a short itinerary that you can also find in the home page dedicated to the Nagià Grom. Starting point is the crossroads short before the village of Manzano (coming from Valle San Felice, where you can eventually park and take a path from the church square with indication to Nagià Grom, given that at the crossroads there’s not a lot of place). On the right, across a small meadow, you can see the starting point of the path where you find also an informative label. If you walk 5 minutes in the grove you reach immediately the first ruins: a water tank and some cave where soldiers could find a shelter – this is in fact the side of the mountain repaired from the attacks of the Italian artillery – or store foods or other materials. A little bit north-west starts the ring path of trenches. Walking through them, in such narrow spaces, passing through cooking areas, recoveries, observatories, gun positions, looking at the craters created by the heavy artillery: all these images make the wonderful view on Valle San Felice and on Garda Lake touching, but someway also painfully. Following the path you approach then the opposite side and can also glance at the valley of the Adige river, reaching so the starting point. The itinerary is very simple and takes about an hour and a half. The near villages of Manzano or Valle San Felice will offer you opportunities to rest and eat. We also suggest to contact the Alpini groups of Mori if you plan to undertake a visit of the trenches here: info@anamori.org

First World War Centenary debate: according to Hew Strachan we must do more to remember

Hew Strachan
It might be pointless to discuss about commemoration and imagine new initiatives for the Centenary of the Great War without knowing deeply what we want to do with it and without acknowledging that in an ideal scenario this five year period of celebrations should become not an arrival but hopefully a starting point. For this reason we guess it makes sense to post about the people and the situations that feed a kind of debate around the Centenary, its purposes and strategies, about what seems to work and what is not working at all. In Italy, for example, just to remain in the country from where we post, it's extremely hard to explain to rest of the world what we think to do starting from 2014 or 2015 up to 2018. Every Italian region seems to have its own plans and the fact that the war was fought only in the north eastern part of the country is not helping the making of. With a bit of bitter humor we might say that Italy is taking this Centenary easily and probably we think of having one year more if we compare to other countries (as you know, Italy entered the war in May 1915 but if we think like this, we should conclude that United States will start the celebrations in 2017 and we all know it will not be like that). Some people could also say with sarcastic, expected and often unpleasant smile that now Italy has more urgent problems to look at and, even though this is true, this reason is not enough to exempt Italy from the preparation of the Centenary.

Anyway, Italy is not the only country that should wonder about what to do with the Centenary. Take for example one of the countries that started very early in designing programs and developing strategies for the Centenary. In the United Kingdom we have one of the most popular historian, Hew Strachan, former professor of at the Universities of Oxford and Glasgow, director of "Oxford Programme on the Changing Character of War" since 2004 and author of best-selling books about the Great War, saying openly that "we must do more to remember". "The Telegraph" entitled the article about his speech using two adjectives that highlight the real danger connected with the Centenary. This commemoration could transform into something sterile and boring and all people involved in this huge project of commemoration, in all countries and at all levels should act to avoid this existing risk. No other word is needed, just the link to the article appeared in "The Telegraph" at the beginning of this year, in case you missed it. And of course, if you're concerned about this risk, we have the possibility to carry on with the debate using the comments' form below. 

Rethinking War. Is there anything new that can be said about the First World War? (CfP)

Canned food for Italian soldiers
As we saw this CfP, we were captured by its title, cleverly turned into a question. And in addition, a very simple, and therefore incisive, question: Is there anything new that can be said about the First World War? What is new about a topic on which people discuss since a century? We could direct the answer to a twofold direction. There’s for sure still a lot in the object that can be discovered, new insights and more details could be seized in studying the Great War, sharing our personal – cultural and national – knowledge and interests. But there’s maybe also something new on the subject: we are new. The way we examine the historical facts, the topics on which we direct today our attention, the methods and techniques we use to achieve a new comprehension of WWI, they all differ much from those of few decades ago. If there's something new on the things we look at, there's surely something new first in our look, even if we do not perceive it. On the eve of the Centenary, such a question enables us to realize maybe that if we can say a lot about WWI, also the Great War has a lot to say about us, about our history and the cultural attitude toward it that we acquired during this century.
The organizers – the Stout Research Centre for New Zealand Studies, with the support of the Ministry for Culture and Heritage – direct however their interest on a precise theme: WWI, New Zealand and its home front, pointing out that a lot has already been discussed and explained along a century; yet still many aspects of this topic can be better specified, revisited or contextualized. This is the aim of the conference, that has to be held in November 2013. Paper proposals are welcomed till 1st June 2013.

Information also here.

Rethinking War
Is there anything new that can be said about the First World War?

The Stout Research Centre for New Zealand Studies, in association with the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, is holding a multidisciplinary conference, 28-30 November 2013, on rethinking 'the Great War' especially New Zealand's connections with and contribution to it. So much work has been produced on the Gallipoli landings, trench warfare, the ANZAC symbolism, war memorials etc that there might seem little else to say. But long experience tells us we don't know what we don't know, especially on the home front; and there must be plenty of space for revisiting the events of 1914-18 almost a century later. We invite papers on any topic related to New Zealand and the First World War or that may contextualise the Great War more generally and provide fresh ways of thinking about it.

A preliminary list of topics is suggested below, but any proposal (title, and abstract no longer than 300 words) is welcome.

Alcohol and drugs
Family memory
Flora and Landscape
Labour movement
Letters and postcards
Literary byways
Māori role
Material culture
Medical history
Opposition and resistance
Patriotic movements
Politics & Religion
Trained to kill
Uniforms and equipment

Please submit abstract to: deborah.levy@vuw.ac.nz by 1 June 2013.

Photos of animals in World War One: elephant with machine-gun

The most well-known war photo was not taken during World War I and neither during the Second World War. As you have already guessed, we are thinking about Robert Capa’s The fallen soldier. It's notorious that many debates rose around the authenticity of this image. This premise is important to set the background of all possible discussions about the relationship between photography and war, moreover since our war imagery (and above all our World War I imagery) is still a photography-driven one. Also the images taken during the Great War present similar problems of authenticity or propaganda aims and sometimes it’s not so easy to separate the images taken “in real action” from the ones that were probably put up like a show due to the presence of a camera in the trenches or behind the front line. 
Look for example at the above image of an elephant and two soldiers. We know that elephants were used during the Great War but everything in this image makes us think about a kind of photomontage useful to prove the presence of such big animal in war operations and is probably just reproducing one of the uses of this animal (let’s say elephants like a “living machine-gun turrets”). We saw also images of camels used as provisional trenches and shelter. Of course we might be wrong about the above image, but look also to the electric pole on the background... These thoughts open a new chapter and namely the one of truthfulness of photography and its value as testimony, another intricacy that the historians already know very well.

Great War on Carnic Alps. Photo reportage by Italo Zandonella Callegher

Like promised at the end of the last article featuring the book review of La ragazza del mulo / "The girl of the mule" by Italo Zandonella Callegher, we are today more than happy to show you the fantastic and rich photo reportage that the author of that book is now sharing with us and with the readers of World War I Bridges. Once again let us thank Italo Zandonella Callegher for his precious gift about the places of the Great War in the Carnic Alps.

1) Monte Croce and Nemes on the country border

2) QUATERNA, conquered on  May 22nd 1915 by Italian Army

3) Roteck Mountain

4) Frugnoni and Quadernà

5) Roteck – Monte Rosso, Cinese and Nemes Saddles

6) Descent from Mount Quaternà and Vallorèra for the battle on September 6th 1915 at the Roteck

7) The Cavallino Peak

8) Peralba Mountain from south

9) Mount Chiadenis

10) Mount Palombino with battle between 12th and 18th July

Photo courtesy: Italo Zandonella Callegher for all images.