Page 202. " Hindenburg too, he has to stand up stiff to him, eh? "
Paul von Hindenburg
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikePaul von Hindenburg - Credit: German Federal Archive

Paul von Hindenburg was a German field marshal, politician, and president of the Weimar Republic. After a successful career in the military, Hindenburg was called back to service at the start of WWI, and he became the Chief of General Staff in 1916.  His achievements brought him arguably higher esteem than the Kaiser himself. After the war, he was elected the second president of Germany in 1925.

He defeated Hitler in 1932 to win a second term at the age of 84. However, his failing health and the instability of the Weimar Republic led him to appoint Hitler Chancellor in 1933. When he died a year later, Hitler took over as head of state.



Page 202. " He distributes Iron Crosses, speaks to this man and that "

Iron Cross 1870 2nd class
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeIron Cross 1870 2nd class - Credit: Ironcross
Introduced in 1813 by King Frederick William III of Prussia, the Iron Cross was a military decoration awarded to German soldiers for acts of heroism, bravery, and leadership.  

During WWI, 6,000,000 soldiers were given the medal.

Page 203. " whether there would not have been a war if the Kaiser said No "
Wilhelm II
Public DomainWilhelm II - Credit: Library of Congress

Wilhelm II (1859-1941) was Germany's last Kaiser, or emperor.

He was born in Potsdam in 1859, the son of Frederick III and Victoria, daughter of Britain's Queen Victoria. His upbringing was strict and authoritarian.  He was educated at the Kassel Gymnasium and then at the University of Bonn. Wilhelm was an overtly militaristic man and was committed to building the strength of Germany's armed forces.  He suffered a nervous breakdown in 1908, and consequently played a lesser role in the government of Germany for the following few years.

Following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary on 28 June 1914, Wilhelm and his Chancellor, Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, incited Austria-Hungary to exact revenge against Serbia.  Events spiralled out of control, resulting in the First World War.

During WWI, Kaiser Wilhelm served primarily as a figurehead for the German army. When Germans realized the war was lost, they rose up against the monarchy. Wilhelm II was forced to abdicate his postion on November 9th, 1918. He spent the rest of his life in exile in Holland.



Page 205. " Gendarmes, police, taxes, that's your State "
Prussian Field-Gendarme
Public DomainPrussian Field-Gendarme

 Gendarmes are military personnel with policing duties.

Page 209. " we were told there were black troops in front of us "

African-American troops played a big role in WWI. Most didn’t see combat, instead being assigned to support roles, but some black units went to the front lines. One of these, the “Harlem Hellfighters,” stayed on the front line for over six months, longer than any other American unit.

A particular black soldier who noticeably distinguished himself in France was Corporal Freddie Stowers: he led his troops into a major assault on the Germans and  was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

By the end of the war, over 350,000 black soldiers had served in American forces on the Western Front. 


Page 209. " We do not waste any more time, but report the affair at the next stretcher-bearers' post "

British stretcher bearers carrying wounded in deep mud
Public DomainBritish stretcher bearers carrying wounded in deep mud
While troops were advancing, they could not stop to take care of wounded soldiers. These would be picked up by stretcher bearers, but with only 4 bearers per company it would somtimes be days before a wounded soldier was picked up and brought back to the trenches for treatment.

Page 215. " That makes me savage with fury, all it needs now is to be killed by our own shells. "

Friendly fire was more common in WWI than it should have been.  Due to the inaccuracy of mortars and other airborne explosives, troops would sometimes be killed by their own gunners.  In some cases, mortars actually landed on ally trenches. 

Often offensives were planned so that soldiers attacked less than a minute after the shelling stopped.  In these situations, it was not uncommon for soldiers to be ordered to attack too soon, leaving them at the mercy of the shells.

Page 215. " Now our batteries are firing "
German Artillery on the Western Front, 1914
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeGerman Artillery on the Western Front, 1914 - Credit: Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-00282A / CC-BY-SA

An artillery battery is a unit of guns, mortars, rockets or missiles, grouped in order to facilitate better battlefield communication and command and control. In the 20th century the term was generally used for the company level sub-unit of an artillery branch, including field, air-defense, anti-tank and position (coast and frontier defenses).

Page 220. " The gurgling starts again - but how slowly a man dies! "

When somebody nears death, saliva may build up in the throat as they lose the ability or the reflex to swallow.  This causes a "death rattle", the gurgling that Paul describes.  Many men were left to die slowly in no-man's-land, and such gurgling was audible to soldiers in the trenches.  Many soldiers went insane listening to the groans of dying men, and it was common practice for soldiers to try to shoot men in their death throes.