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100 Years Ago: October 1918

This is my forty-fifth brief review of a one-hundred-year-old National Geographic Magazine.

The first article of the issue is entitled “Russia’s Orphan Races” and was written by Maynard Owen Williams. It has the subtitle “Picturesque Peoples Who Cluster on the Southeastern Borderland of the Vast Slav Dominions”. The article contains twenty-six black-and-white photographs, of which eleven are full-page in size. It also contains a sketch map of the region on page 277.

Photo Courtesy of Philip Riviere

With the collapse of the Russian Empire and food shortages in Moscow and St. Petersburg, the author tours the southern border from the captured Turkish city of Bayazid, through the Caucasus, on to Turkistan, back to Baku (Azerbaijan), before sailing to Astrakhan and up the Volga, back to Russia proper.

Bayazid, a city near Mount Ararat, is near modern-day Armenia. The population is unmistakably Turkish, with the red fez a common sight everywhere. A few Russian women, stylishly dressed or sporting the shawl of a peasant matron could be seen, as could the Red Cross of the “Union of Cities” hospital; but the city is as Turkish as it had ever been. The street corner signs, strikingly new in their blue and white, were printed in Russian.

With Russians now in retreat from the Turkish front, and the seeds of German propaganda for a Pan-Turanian empire uniting the Ural-Altaic tribes (and of course allied with Berlin), the importance of this region has never been greater. The Armenians, more than any other people, have suffered from the Turanian race, though they still hold out in the Erivan plain and the hill city of Shusha. The British, whose interest in South Asia could be at risk, sent a landing party to Baku, the Pan-Turanian hub.

Along with the Armenians, the Georgians form an important outpost against Turanian dangers. Isolated by mountains, reclusive Georgia is “an island in a sea of history”. The little village of Mtzhhet claims to be founded by one of Noah’s sons, who chose the site for its excellent drainage. St Nina established a Christian church in Mtzkhet around 347 A.D. The Georgians assert that they were Christians before the Armenians, and vice versa. While they have differences, Georgians are spendthrifts and the Armenians are wealthy, albeit oppressed, Georgians are good hosts while Armenians are shrewd businessmen; they have intermingled to the point that they attend each other’s church services. On May 26, 1918, Georgia declared its independence from the collapsing Russian Empire, ending the Transcaucasian Republic in which Tatars had four representatives to Georgia’s three. Georgian women have the right to vote and the author witnessed a divorce caused by the spouses voting for different candidates. This occurred in Tiflis (Tbilisi). The author describes the election with Bolsheviks dropping leaflets from an aeroplane. With sixteen parties running, literature (read liter) was everywhere. The Social Democratic party won.

Next the author travels to Turkestan. Starting at the port of Krasnovodsk, across the Caspian Sea from Baku, the author travels by rail eastward into the heart of Turkestan. The author describes how America’s love of oriental rugs has changed the Turkomans, mostly for the worse. By our demand far outweighing their supply from these “dwellers of the yurteh”, the price of these “products of the desert loom” have skyrocketed. Since the girls who weave the rugs are now more valuable to their families, only the wealthiest of men can afford to marry them. The average Turkoman either has to find an “inferior” wife elsewhere or hire a prostitute. In Bairam Ali several brothels have been established. The women have a likewise no-win choice. Either marry a wealthy “foreigner” or spend a life of spinsterhood. Mr. Williams visited a rug market in the town of Merv with thousands of specimens on display.

Further east from the great oasis of Merv lies the “romantic mud flower-pot of Bokhara”. While the mud-brick buildings are colorless and lacking in architectural interest, the people are colorfully dressed. Six colors on a Bokhara male is considered monochrome. Every Friday is Easter Sunday in Bokhara. All the men wear white turbans and the most colorful of robes. The variety in Bokhara is not just limited to colors, but races as well. Here you can find Persians, Jews, Hindoos [sic], and Armenians mingling with Sarts, Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Afghans. Tatars and Turkomans can be seen side-by-side with Kirghizes, and even Chinese wander through.

Eastward still, the author reached Samarkand. What costume does for Bokhara, architecture did for Samarkand. Tinted tiles which encase the imposing facades of the mosque schools have retained much of their Oriental brilliance. Here is where Timur the Lame called home. His empire reached from Siberia to the Dardanelles and from the Ganges to the Persian Gulf.

Mr. Williams next travels back west across Turkestan and the Caspian to Baku. While Bokhara is cosmopolitan in an Asiatic sense, Baku contains European influences and inhabitants as well. While surrounded by mineral wealth and some of the finest wine-growing regions, Baku’s modern wealth is from oil. Appreciation of the British force in Baku, along with successes on the western front, are expressed by the author.

From Baku the author chartered a steamer to Astrakhan. From there he traveled up the Volga River to the Russian City of Samara and joined up with the Czecho-Slovak expeditionary force.

The second article is entitled “What the War Has Done for Britain” and was written by Judson C. Welliver. It contains thirteen black-and-white photographs with eight being full-page in size.

Mr. Welliver compares his article to one by Mr. Sidney Brooks in the March 1917 National Geographic Magazine entitled “What Great Britain Is Doing”. While Britain had entered the war without hesitation, it was unclear at the time of when, or even whether, America would join her in the fight.

What has the war done in Britain, to Britain, and for Britain? First, it has saved Britain for democracy. It has inspired a love of freedom and a devotion to fair play. Britain has been spiritualized by the war. The British democracy is no longer merely a political and institutional democracy; it is a human democracy. The social caste system and the pound sterling have been overthrown as rulers. This is not Bolshevism, but a social and industrial democracy.

An example of this socialization is the handling of the milk shortage. First the administration stepped in to prevent profiteering and to ensure that those who most needed it should have their share of milk. Vital statistics have shown that the death rate of children under five years of age has been cut in half compared to before the war’s start. Another example is the fact that in the face of food shortages, never in British history have so many people been amply fed. At the same time aristocratic digestive ailments, such as gout, have been all but eliminated.

Legislation has passed in the House of Commons for a complete overhaul of the education system in Britain at a cost of $75 million. By avoiding shocks to tradition, and saving and building upon what works, all grades from kindergarten to university are being revamped. The plan is to make education compulsory, practical, and cultural. It guarantees a full range of educational opportunities.

Planning is well underway for reconstruction after the war. They anticipate the need for one million new homes. Municipalities will build them using their own credit backed by the national government. There is already a splendid example of how to improve housing and sanitation, the housing already built for the war workers.

The United Kingdom has sent 6 million men to war, out of a population of 46 million. An additional million-plus has been sent by the dominions and colonies, as has over a million from India. There have been over one million British lives lost in the war so far, but that only slightly affected the population due to the improved living conditions of the civilian population. While waging war, Britain has been able to keep alive the world commerce by which the nation lives. In bulk, exports have decreased, but the value of them has been maintained thus supporting British credit throughout the world.

The British people went without coal, except for invalids, in the bitter winter of 1916-17, so that they could export it to Norway, France, and Italy. This group sacrifice was made to avert disaster. Her navy has been the backbone of the Entente cause. Without it, the war would have been lost in 1914. Her first army, that died in the first hundred days, saved the Channel coast for France. Britain bore the horror of Gallipoli without wincing.

A great deal of British success in the war is due to the efforts put forth by her women. They have stepped into traditionally men’s jobs, ship building, machine operations, munitions manufacturing, etc. with impressive results. Everywhere the author went, he saw women working in industry.

Agriculture has also greatly improved. In 1918, the country has food-stuffs enough to feed it for 40 of the 52 weeks. This is an amazing accomplishment for an industrial country, doubly so considering the ongoing war effort. Not again will Britain permit itself to be dependent for its daily bread on the uncertainties of importation. Agriculture is becoming a chief object of national solitude.

Shipbuilding will be the main industry in a peacetime Britain. The country plans to come out of its reconstruction in excellent shape to compete in the global market. Banks too have been mobilized to increase credit requirements to restock warehouses and restore public utilities.

The third article this month is entitled “How Canada Went to the Front”. It was written by Hon. T. B. Macaulay, of Montreal. It contains six black-and-white photographs of which three are full-page in size. None of these photos are related to the article. The first four, including all three full-page photos, are from England and are linked to the second article. The last two pictures are from Jerusalem and are linked to the fifth article.

Though having much smaller population and economy than the U.S., Canada has made her contribution to the war, both in manpower and financially. 550,000 have enlisted and soon the number of men in uniform will hit 600,000. About 450,000 are already in Europe. The totals for killed and wounded as of June 30, 1918 were 43,303 and 115,781 respectively. There is a footnote updating these totals through October 31, 1918 reads:

“According to official figures issued from Ottawa on November 12, Canadian casualties, up to eleven days before the armistice, totaled 34,877 killed in action; 15,457 dead of wounds or disease; 152,779 wounded, and 8,245 presumed dead, missing in action, and prisoners of war – a total of 211,358.”

This footnote proves that the October 1918 issue of National Geographic went to print around the middle of November. Whether this was due to a wartime shortage of paper or ink, or happened for another reason, I have no clue.

Unlike the United States, Canada has been in the war from the start. It was at the second battle of Ypres in April and May of 1915 that the Canadians held their ground, against overwhelming odds, to save the city of Calais and the Channel ports.

Through her victory loans, Canada has helped finance the war. Each round of loans has raised around twice its original goal. In the latest round the Government has asked for $300 million with the author guessing around $500 million being raised. Another footnote reads: “The subscriptions totaled $676,000,000 according to official returns, November 19.” This puts back the date of this issue going to press even later in November.

To support the war effort, Canada has also turned to munitions making. She has supplied 60 million shells, 500,000 tons of shipping, and is producing about 350 aeroplanes per month.

Besides funding the war effort, Canadians have also donated millions of dollars in money and supplies to the Red Cross. They have also given millions to the various relief funds of Belgium, France, Serbia, and Poland. Also, for military work performed by the Y.M.C.A., Canada has contributed $4.5 million. Contributions have also been made towards education of soldiers at the front to prepare them for their return to civilian life.

The fourth article, if it can be called an article, is entitled “The Healer of Humanity’s Wounds” and has no by-line. It is a short, three-paragraph introduction to the sixteen full-page black-and-white photographs on the following pages. It is also a plea for donations for the relief work required while Europe is being rebuilt and for the families of soldiers who had lost their lives.

The fifth and final article this month is entitled “An Old Jewel in the Proper Setting” and was written by Charles W. Whitehair. Its subtitle reads “An Eyewitness’s Account of the Reconquest of the Holy Land by Twentieth Century Crusaders”. While the cover states that there are “14 Illustrations”, the article in fact contains 17 black-and-white photographs. Six of those photos are full-page in size.

Early in 1915 the Turkish forces, aided by the Germans, were launched against the Suez Canal – the main artery of the British Empire, connecting Australia, New Zealand, and India to the mother country. In February, a small force of the enemy reached the canal and was driven back. In order to protect this vital water-way it became necessary for the British to launch an offensive. The Desert campaign on the Sinai Peninsula was long and weary. The author visited all along the Sinai front in 1916.

The major obstacle in desert warfare is logistics, especially water. The desert thirst has no equal. British soldiers in the Sinai had to make due with only one gallon of water a day per man. This water was for cooking, washing, and drinking. Every gallon of water had to be brought from the River Nile by means of pipes. The water was stored in great reservoirs prior to being filtered for the men.

Before the war, a trip to Jerusalem involved taking a boat from Port Said to Jaffa, then by rail to Jerusalem. A trip across the sands of the Sinai took about eight days by camel. Thanks to the British, today a traveler can go to bed on a comfortable train at the canal base camp, Kantara, and arrive early the next morning in Jerusalem.

In June 1917 the British began the “Palestine push”, and by December 5 they had reached the outskirts of the city. The attack on Jerusalem began on the morning of December 8. Slowly the British advanced to the city gates. The city surrendered on the morning of December 9. On December 11 the British officially entered the city. This entry of the city by General Allenby was without fanfare, unlike the visit the Jerusalem by the Kaiser in 1898.

The Kaiser ordered the erection of a great stone building on the beautiful Mount of Olives. It is called the Kaiserin Augusta Victoria Hospice, but it more resembles a fortress. Supposedly to be used by German pilgrims, it was discovered to contain a powerful wireless outfit. Concrete bases around the structure look surprisingly like German gun emplacements.

British soldiers guard all gates and sites sacred to Christians and Jews while Indian soldiers, being Muslim, guard all sites sacred to Muslims. Since capturing the city not a single building has been torn down or damaged, and no changes of any kind are permitted, so the city may be preserved unmarred by modern hands.

By December 27, the city was on the verge of famine. Before the war there were two main sources of food supply. The first, by sea from Jaffa was cut off at the war’s outbreak. The second, from the districts east of the Jordan River are now cut off by the Turks. Hundreds of tons of supplies were shipped in and relief work was carefully carried out.

Governing Jerusalem proved difficult. Before abandoning the city, the Turks destroyed all records and deported all important officials. Two hospitals have been built, schools have been reopened, and services are being reestablished. Equal rights to all the various peoples in Jerusalem have been guaranteed. And now that the British rule the holy land, the Jews will be able to return and reclaim their ancient homeland.

The article ends with the recent capture of Damascus. The British were able to move so quickly that they were able to capture virtually all the Turks defending the city.

Tom Wilson

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