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The Dowager’s Diary – Week One Hundred and Forty-Six

December 14-21, 1917

Christmas was just around the corner for Kate Roosevelt and her New York City social circle, but utmost on their minds during the holiday season of 1917 was what was going on in other corners of the world. This year there would be no celebrating in Europe as World War One was putting on its own display of revelry. Soldiers were being gassed, trenches on the battlefield were winding their way all over Europe and fatherless orphans were begging for food and shelter.

During this time, every daily entry was accompanied with an equally-informative newspaper clipping and commentary by the now “amateur war correspondent” Kate Roosevelt. On the side or in the margin of her diary, in her own words and sprawling handwriting she captioned each report.“General Pershing’s men have had their first experience in the trenches.”

General John Pershing

In early December, 1917, General John Pershing warned Secretary of War, Newton Baker, that with the collapse of the Russian Front, the Germans would be able to take over the Western Front by the Spring of 1918. He blamed his gloomy forecast on inefficiency and corruption on the part of the United States Government. At war since April, 1917, the United States had only four infantry divisions in France and they were all deficient in training, equipment and staffing techniques and ultimately unable to stop a German victory.

Trenches in France

Pershing was not a big fan of the rudimentary trench warfare being implemented by the Allies, France, and Britain. He thought open warfare would win the war, but when American soldiers balked at being human cannon fodder, he re-considered and used trench warfare for the first time. Kate’s diary documents this strategy with a clipping of United States soldiers entrenched with French Troops wearing French helmets for protection.

The long, narrow and muddy foxholes provided damp and cold quarters for the soldiers, requiring special uniforms that would keep out the snow and sleet that rained down on the foxholes during the winter months.

General Pershing in Trench Coat

While doing research on trenches, I began to think that quite possibly the classic “trench coat” might have had its origins in World War One. According to a website, www.hespokestyle, “Military -inspired and ultra-classic, the Trench Coat is one piece of outerwear that will never go out of style.”

Ad for Trench Coats

Although the trench coat rose to fashion-fame during World War One, its material, gabardine was invented in the late 1800s by Thomas Burberry. The now-famous, men’s haberdasher saw a need for a waterproof fabric that was less smelly and sweaty than the rubberized, cotton then available and so created a new fabric in which individual threads were rubberized, rather than the entire cloth. Called gabardine, the cotton material was waterproof and breathable. Kate Roosevelt knew a bit about waterproof material. Her late son-in-law, Langdon Geer, was the American representative for the British Cravanette Company, that sold a similar waterproof product used in men’s suits and coats. When her cousin, Theodore Roosevelt, amassed his troops known as the Rough Riders to go into battle during the Spanish-American War, he ordered a water-proof uniform made of Cravanette from Brooks Brothers.

American Soldier in Trench Coat

During World War One, the military recognized this miracle material known as gabardine and began using it. Prior to World War One, most battles were fought at close range and bright uniforms were essential in identifying comrades and also made them colorful targets. As warfare changed, armies realized their soldiers needed to blend into their backgrounds and the color khaki provided the perfect camouflage.

The trench coat became popular with British soldiers and officers who had been wearing serge, wool topcoats. Heavy when dry, when they got wet these topcoats weighed-down soldiers in soaking wool, making it impossible to maneuver in muddy trenches.

Gabardine replaced wool and soldiers’ topcoats became known as trench coats. Designed with wide lapels, a double-breasted closure and belt, the epaulets were added during World War One to display rank. Military mythology suggests that D-rings were used to hang grenades from.

Sharon Hazard’s Dowager’s Diary appears on Thursday.

Photo One:
Soldiers in Trenches Wearing Waterproof Trench Coats
Keystone View, Public Domain

Photo Two:
General John Pershing
U.S. Military Library Photo

Photo Three:
Trenches in France
Wiki

Photo Four:
General Pershing
Wiki

Photo Five:
Ad for Trench Coats
Public Domain

Photo Six:
American Soldier in Trench Coat
Author Collection

The post The Dowager’s Diary – Week One Hundred and Forty-Six appeared first on Woman Around Town.



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