Spanish Flu Pandemic - TO THE WESTERN FRONT

TO THE WESTERN FRONT (Illustration) American History Famous Historical Events Geography Medicine Social Studies World War I Disasters

Soldiers serving along the Western Front lived in ground dug-outs called trenches.  Rats were common in these outdoor dwellings, making things even more miserable.  This illustration, from the 20 October 1917 cover of Literary Digest, depicts an idealized version of trench living where English-speaking soldiers are studying French.  Public Domain.  Online, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.


At about the time American soldiers at Camp Funston came down with the yet-unnamed Spanish Flu, French and British forces were in trouble along the Western Front. Germany had a readily observable objective: Split-apart the Allies so the German war machine could break through the 440-mile line and overrun the French countryside.

Although troops on both sides of the line had been unable to really move much for three years, effectively gaining little (or no) ground, the Germans were hopeful their spring offensive would be decisive. Georges Clemenceauthen the French Premier whose men needed additional help to hold the line—told an American newsman (with great urgency):

A terrible blow is imminent. Tell your Americans to come quickly.

And come they did!

According to the American Battle Monuments Commission, the first "American Expeditionary Forces" arrived in France on the 26th of June, 1917By the time World War I was over, about 2 million American troops were in France.

During the summer of 1918, Americans crossed the Atlantic in droves:

June: 279,000
July: 300,000
August: 286,000

They were bound, among other places, for the trenches at the Western Front. Robert Graves (the British poet, writer-combatant and author of Goodbye to All That and I, Claudius) had a choice name for the front: “the sausage machine.” His reason for such a description?

...because it was fed with live men, churned out corpses, and remained firmly screwed in place.

Rarely had military men been forced to live for so long in such deplorably desperate conditions as those existing at the Western Front. In the trenches, awful rats as big as cats fed on dead bodies while lice inflicted 97% of the soldiers. “Trench fever” often resulted from the filth and exposure.

The arriving American soldiers, who had come to help the Allies, also brought with them a weapon. It was unseen and unknown. It had already taken aim at the Americans; it would soon turn on their brothers-in-arms. And, according to some scholars, it may have actually helped the Allies win the war.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Mar 01, 2006

Updated Last Revision: Jun 10, 2019

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"TO THE WESTERN FRONT" AwesomeStories.com. Mar 01, 2006. Feb 29, 2020.
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