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WW1 Centennial News for March 09, 2018 - Episode #62

WW1 Field Telephone. Insider question: Who IS that on the phone?WW1 Field Telephone. Insider question: Who IS that on the phone?

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Highlights - US Army Signal Corps

  • The founding of the US Army Signal Corps @ |01:30
  • The Signal Corps in WW1 @ |04:25
  • War In The Sky - Signal Corps Connections @ |09:00
  • Alvin York’s crisis of conscience w/ Dr. Edward Lengel @ |13:30
  • Germany’s starts big push w/ Mike Shuster @ |20:25
  • Women in the AEF w/ Dr. Susan Zeiger @ |25:15
  • The Hello Girls w/ Dr. Elizabeth Cobbs @ |32:05
  • 100C/100M in Worcester MA w/ Brian McCarthy @ |40:35
  • Speaking WW1 - Shody @ |46:15
  • Social Media Pick w/ Katherine Akey @ |48:15

View the PDF transcript


Welcome to World War 1 centennial News - episode #62 - It’s about WW1 THEN - what was happening 100 years ago this week  - and it’s about WW1 NOW - news and updates about the centennial and the commemoration.

Today is March 9th, 2018 and our guests for this week include:

  • Dr. Edward Lengel, exploring Alvin York’s crisis of conscience as he entered the military
  • Mike Shuster, from the great war project blog with an update on German war activities in May
  • Dr. Susan Zeiger telling us about the women workers of the American Expeditionary Forces
  • Dr. Elizabeth Cobbs with the story of the Hello Girls
  • Brian McCarthy, sharing the 100 Cities/100 Memorials project in Worcester Massachusetts
  • Katherine Akey with the WW1 commemoration in social media

WW1 Centennial News -- a weekly podcast brought to you by the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission, the Pritzker Military Museum and Library and the Starr foundation.

I’m Theo Mayer - the Chief Technologist for the Commission and your host. Welcome to the show.



This week several stories came up that pointed to US Army Signal Corps. You know.. they’re not just the guys who made the movies and took the pictures…  

Actually they have a heritage of being “New Tech” gurus  - taking initial responsibility for classic ideas, later managed by other organizations including military intelligence, weather forecasting and especially aviation.

That because it all started with a visionary guy named Albert James Myer. Myer started as a Medical Officer in Texas before the civil war and ended up a brigadier general with the title of First Chief Signal Officer and a legacy as “The father of the US Army Signal Corps”

Early on - Myer came up with a flag waving scheme to send messages during combat - which the Army adopted it in 1860 - one year before the start of the Civil War. It’s high falutin’ name was Aerial Telegraphy but, everyone called it WIG WAG.

During the Civil War, WigWag was used on the battlefield to direct artillery fire-- and Myer started to experiment with balloons, electric telegraph and other kinds of new tech.

Because he fostered such an innovation culture in the signal corps - ten years late, In 1870 when the US government AKA the congress decided to  mandate a National Weather Service - they tasked Myer and the Signal Corps to create it - which he did to great international acclaim.

Myer died a decade later in 1880, and his lab “slash” school in Arlington Virginia was ultimately renamed Fort Myer to honor the father of the US Signal Corps.

By the turn of the century the US Army Signal Corps had taken on a leadership role not just with visual signalling but also with the telegraph, telephone, cable communications, meteorology, combat photography and had even sprouted an aeronautical and aviation section.

Nearly a decade before American Forces engaged the enemy, the wright brothers made test flights of the army’s first airplane built to Signal Corps’ specifications. Tests appropriately performed at Fort Myers. Army aviation stayed with the Signal Corps until May of 1918, when the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps is transformed by President Wilson’s  Executive order, into the Army Air Service - the forerunner of the United States Air Force.

With that as a setup, let’s jump into our Centennial Time Machine - which the Signal Corps DID NOT develop - and roll back 100 years to learn what the US Army Signal Corps was - during the War that Changed the World!

World War One THEN

100 Year Ago This Week


We are back in 1918 and we are going to focus on two of the key things the Signal Corps does during WW1.

Communication and Documentation --- and always with an eye on innovation. Because with battles and offensives no longer organize neatly into line-of-sight groups, innovations is required to communicate and coordinate.

The field telephone is one of those basic elements…

The challenge of wired electric connections between two telephone devices is that you need the wire… which tends to get blown up, trampled, cut, damaged and sometimes tapped into by the enemy in the field.

And because, the telephone in 1918 is a point-to-point connection… that means that, in order to re-connect a field telephone from one place to another - you need to physically repatch the connection - a function performed by a telephone operator.

The “Hello Girls” who go to France to do that job, are sworn into the US Army Signal Corps as soldiers… yup… but then at the end of the war, they are just let go -- and not given honorable discharges and so don’t qualify for veteran benefits! We have a whole section for you with Dr. Elizabeth Cobbs - the author of the book “The Hello Girls” later in the show...----

OK --- Then there is WIRELESS communication. The Signal corps teams up with private industry to advance radio transmission and reception and create new devices that are smaller, more practical and more capable.

Of course the challenge with radio communications is that everyone can receive it… creating a serious security challenge and a great intelligence opportunity - both of which the Signal Corps addresses.

So when the United States enters the war in early 1917, its own capacity for radio intelligence is significantly underdeveloped. But, with the help of their British and French allies, and the dedicated work of over 500 men, the Signal Corps’ Radio Section collects huge amounts of radio and other communications traffic to help the American Expeditionary Forces stay one step ahead of their enemy. This area of activity is known as Signt or Signal Intelligence.

One battle in which victory is particularly credited to the work of the Radio Section is the Battle of Saint-Mihiel in September 1918, as American operators are able to discover the location of several German command posts, and warn the Army of a German counteroffensive several hours in advance.

But not everything signal corps is tech! They also take 600 carrier pigeons to France including a pigeon named Cher Ami (dear friend) who is credited with a stallworth, heroic,  wounded delivery of a message credited for saving 194 US Soldiers of the 77th Infantry Division - the famed Lost Battalion.

Then there is the Documentation roll of the US Army Signal Corps!

According to an article by Audrey Amidon:

The Signal Corps pays relatively little attention to photography until July 1917 when they are assigned the responsibility for obtaining photographic coverage of American participation in World War I. That means both moving and still imagery.

The purpose is for propaganda, scientific, identification, and military reconnaissance purposes but primarily for the production of a pictorial history of the war.

The Photographic Section of the Signal Corps manages to build up quite a large and efficient organization. Beginning with 25 men in August 1917, the Photographic Section attached to the AEF reaches a strength of 92 officers and 498 men by November 1918

They defined a photographic unit as one motion-picture cameraman and one still-picture photographer, plus  assistants. So they are capturing stills and motion pictures simultaneously at each location.

Each Division (remember from last week is a force of around 40,000 American soldiers) gets a photographic unit. They also hace units that cover headquarters, sea transport, service and supply, red cross and so forth.

Between the AEF footage, domestic training documentation and special projects including training films for soldier and pilots, the US Army  Signal Corps shoots nearly 1 million feet of movie film to document the war that changed the world!

Other links:



For much deeper learning, if people are interested:


War in the Sky

This week, one hundred years ago,  the war in the sky preparations were in full view in the Official Bulletin - The government’s daily war gazette published by George Creel, President Wilson’s propaganda chief.

And as we have told you before, the Commission re-publishes each issue of the Official Bulletin on the Centennial of its original publication date - a great primary source of information about WWI you are invited to enjoy at ww1cc.org/bulletin.

We selected two articles from this week’s issues that illustrate the Signal Corp’s roll in the War in the Sky - the first article is about seeing the foundation of a new US Aerospace industry forming.

[sound effect]

Dateline: March 5, 1918

The article headline reads:


The article goes on to read:

The US Army Signal Corps has authorized the call for 10,000 machinists, mechanics, and other skilled workers needed by the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps.

Even though the strength of that service is already 100 times what it was in April of last year, it is now understood that nearly 98 of every 100 men in the service need to be highly skilled.

Airplane work has been wholly new and unfamiliar to American Mechanics. It has been necessary for both officers and men to learn very largely by experience.

The article continues with with a comment by War secretary Baker about keeping those planes flying in the field:

The great problem now remaining is to secure the thousands of skilled mechanics, engine men, motor repair men, wood and metal workers needed to keep the planes always in perfect condition.

This great engineering and mechanical force at the airdomes, flying fields, and repair depots, both here and behind the lines in France, is a vital industrial link in the chain of air supremacy.

The next day, an article illustrates the foundation of the modern cartography a technology we now all enjoy casually and daily with applications like Google Maps:

[Sound Effect]

Dateline: March 5, 1918

The article headline reads:

1,000 Trained Photographers Wanted at Once for Signal Corps Aeroplane -and Ground Duty

And the article reads:

One thousand men trained in photographic work are needed by the Signal Corps before March 10

As an aside - that is only 5 days after this article publishes - it goes on with:

These men are to be instructed at the new school for aerial photography just opened at Rochester, N. Y., preparatory to going overseas.

This ground force for America's aerial photography requires three types of men:

  1. 1. Laboratory and dark room experts, especially fast news photographers, familiar with developing, printing, enlarging, retouching, and finishing panchromatic photography,

who can take a plate from the airmen and hand over, ten minutes later, a finished enlargement to the staff officers. These men will work in motor lorries as close to the front and staff as possible.


  1. 2. Men able to keep the whole delicate equipment in good condition, such as camera and optical constructions plus repairmen, lens experts, cabinet makers, instrument makers, and so forth...
  2. 3. Men to fit the finished prints into their proper places in the photographic

reproduction of the German front --- to work out the information disclosed, and to keep the whole map a living hour-to-hour story of what the Germans are doing.s

Many men not physically fit for line service are eligible for this so-called limited military service, as defective vision corrected by glasses and other minor physical disabilities' are waived.

Owing to the shortness of time it is requested that only men fully qualified apply for this service.

That is a great closing line, as this article was published on May 5th, and they want 1,000 men by May 10 as the army Signal Corps plays out its role in the War in the Sky one hundred years ago this week!

America Emerges: Military Stories from WW1

For the war on the ground, here is this week’s segment of America Emerges: Military Stories from WWI with Dr. Edward Lengel.

Ed: This week your story is about one of the best known soldier heroes of WWI - and his very profound crisis of conscience in entering his military service.. Who was he and what is his story?


[Thank you Ed. Before we close - I want to ask you something that struck me in hearing this account. When Alvin York asked his Captain and his battalion commander  “I wish you would tell me what this war is about,” I know we have no record of that they actually said - but as a historian - how might these military commander have responded? What was the common wisdom and answer to that question at the time?]

[Ed, what will you be telling us about next week?]

Dr. Edward Lengel is an American military historian, author, and our segment host for America Emerges: Military Stories from WWI.

There are links in the podcast notes to Ed’s post and his website as an author.




Great War Project

Now on to the Great War project with Mike Shuster - former NPR correspondent and curator for the Great War project Blog….

Mike, your post this week is about the pre “spring offensive” actions in Europe - On the front and reaching into Allied capitals - It really feels like there is an undercurrent of desperation - and to me - desperation on all side - is that a theme here?


Mike Shuster from the Great War Project blog.




The Great War Channel

We love that you listen to us - but If you’d like to watch some videos about WW1, go see our friends at the Great War Channel on Youtube.

This week’s new videos include:  

  • Ludendorff's Window of Opportunity
  • From Caporetto to Cambrai: A Summary
  • Lenin and Trotsky - Their Rise to Power

To see their videos by searching for “the great war” on youtube or following the link in the podcast notes!


World War One NOW

OK… time to  fast forward --  back to the present with WW1 Centennial News NOW -


This is the part of the podcast where we explore what is happening NOW to commemorate the centennial of the War that changed the world!

Remembering Veterans

Women Workers of the AEF

This week in remembering veterans and for Women’s History Month - We’re continuing our focus on Women in WW1.

We’re joined by Dr. Susan Zeiger (tiger), an author and member of the Commission’s Historical Advisory Board. She is also the Program Director at Primary Source ----  non-profit, advancing global and cultural learning in schools---- She is a professor emeritus of History at Regis College in Weston, Massachusetts, and the author of
In Uncle Sam’s Service: Women Workers with the American Expeditionary Forces, 1917-1919.

Welcome, Dr. Zeiger!


[The phenomenon you describe in your book -- thousands of women taking on responsibilities usually reserved for men-- seems groundbreaking in many ways. What motivated thousands of American women to volunteer for overseas service during World War I?

[What kinds of resistance did women encounter-- at home and on the job-- as they set off to work? ]


Thank you for joining us today. Dr. Susan Zeiger is a member of the Commission’s Historical Advisory Board, the Program Director at Primary Source, professor emeritus of History at Regis College and author. Learn more about her and her work by following the links in the podcast notes.

Link: https://www.primarysource.org/about-us/our-staff/susan-zeiger



Spotlight in the Media

Hello Girls

This week for our Spotlight in the Media --

We’re joined by Dr. Elizabeth Cobbs, whose book The Hello Girls: America’s First Women Soldiers. Is the basis for the documentary The Hello Girls, which just had a very successful world premiere in Washington DC at the Women’s Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.

Dr. Cobbs is also the Melbern Glasscock Chair at Texas A&M University, as well as a Senior Fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.


Welcome Dr. Cobbs!

[Dr. Cobbs, I heard great things about the films showing in DC last week including the attendance by two grand daughters of Hello Girls - Were you there? ]

[We mentioned the Hello Girls at the top of the show in our segment on the US Army Signal Corps - Who were the Hello Girls? What kinds of women were they?]

[So these women signed up as soldier and then got gypped out of their veteran benefits - what what’s that story?]

[Did the Hello Girls continue to be telephone operators when they returned home and into the workforce?]

[Dr. Cobbs - we’ve included a link to your book in the podcast notes, but where can people see the documentary? ]

[What is the most important thing we should remember about the story of these women?]


Dr. Elizabeth Cobbs is the Melbern Glasscock Chair at Texas A&M University, a Senior Fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and an acclaimed author.

You can learn more about her and her  book The Hello Girls: America’s First Women Soldiers by following the links in the podcast notes.







100 Cities 100 Memorials

Moving on to our 100 Cities / 100 Memorials segment

about the $200,000 matching grant challenge

to rescue and focus on our local WWI memorials.

This week we are profiling the Memorial Grove at Green Hill Park in Worchester MA.

With us tell us about this ambitious restoration WWI is Brian McCarthy, President of the Green Hill Park Coalition Inc

[Brian - Thank you for joining us on the podcast]


[Brian: the Memorial in Worcester was originally put in 1928 by Post 5 of The American Legion. What did they do and what is the history of the memorial?]

[Brian - Your Green Hill Park Coalition took this on - not as a little spruce up (no tree pun intended) but a very ambitious multi-hundred thousand dollar memorial park renovation. How did this come about?]

[When I saw your design study and planning documents - I was genuinely impressed by your thinking and your beautiful but practical vision. What is the status of the project now?]

[Well - your project has deservedly been designated as a WWI Centennial Memorial - How can people help?]

Brian McCarthy is President of the Green Hill Park Coalition. Their Go Fund me site and more information about the 100 Cities/100 Memorials program are both available through the links in the podcast notes.

Link: www.ww1cc.org/100cities



Speaking WW1

And now for our feature “Speaking World War 1” - Where we explore the words & phrases that are rooted in the war  ---

The American armed forces ballooned in size during 1917 and 1918. Putting men in uniform was not just a conceptual statement but a literal one!

Underwear, socks, shoes, belts, and uniforms for millions were needed NOW!

This week 100 years ago on March 6th in the pages of the Official Bulletin - and apparently after accusations of problems, the government seeks to reassure the country, that Army Uniforms are made with the absolute best materials and did not overuse... QUOTE “shoddy” --- Our speaking WW1 word this week.

Shoddy may have originally derived from a mining term “Shoad” meaning scraps,  the article goes on to define what the government means by “shoddy” -- This indicates to us that it was not a term commonly used in 1918 - but it is today

“shoddy” is simply reworked wool remnants and clippings worked into fiber of the virgin wool, you know - like stretching the ground sirloin with some bread crumbs!

The use of shoddy, or reworked wool, was urged by the government’s wool experts as a helpful, partial solution for the huge wool shortage - but it had to be added sparingly.

Shoddy was also used in military uniforms during the the Civil War but apparently overused. There are stories of soldiers’ clothes falling to pieces after just a few days’ wear, or even in a heavy rain giving those uniforms a really bad reputation and re-defining the word “Shoddy” not as wool clipping but a description of something poorly made.  

Luckily, the shoddy laden wool in WW1 uniforms were not as shoddy as the shoddy uniforms of the Civil War-- they did hold up in the rain and mud of the trenches.

No shame in that Shoddy-- our word for this week’s Speaking WW1. Learn more at the links in the podcast notes.

link: http://www.worldwar1centennial.org/index.php/educate/places/official-bulletin/3339-ww1-official-bulletin-volume-2-issue-250-march-06-1918.html





The Buzz

And that brings us to the buzz - the centennial of WW1 this week in social media with Katherine Akey - Katherine, what do you have for us this week?

Long Lost Diary

This week, we shared an article on Facebook from Longmont, Colorado, where a local man named Paul Hansen discovered a long forgotten world war one era diary. The diary belonged to Hansen’s father, who left it, along with a few other mementos of his service in the war, in his army issued footlocker, left to collect dust in the family barn. Hansen inherited the box from his father, opening it and rediscovering the life his father had lived as a soldier in the war. In it he found his father’s diary, as well as his Victory Medal and love letters between his father and his girlfriend, who died from influenza before he returned home from the battlefield. Hansen has taken all of these items -- and the very detailed diary -- and brought them into a book, “Soldier of the Great War: My Father’s Diary”. The story of this man and his very personal discovery of his father’s service -- it’s a reminder that, though the war is a hundred years passed, so many stories of the war are yet to be discovered and told.

You can read more about the incredible history pieced together by this veteran’s son by visiting the link in the podcast notes.



Thank you for listening to this week’s episode of WW1 Centennial News.

We also want to thank our guests...


  • Dr. Edward Lengel, Military historian and author
  • Mike Shuster, Curator for the great war project blog
  • Dr. Susan Zeiger, member of the Commission’s Historical Advisory Board, author and the Program Director at Primary Source
  • Dr. Elizabeth Cobbs, historian and author
  • Brian McCarthy from the 100 Cities/100 Memorials project in Worcester Massachusetts
  • Katherine Akey, the commission’s social media director and line producer for the podcast

Thanks also to Eric Maar as well as our intern John Morreale for their great research assistance.

And I am Theo Mayer - your host.


The US World War One Centennial Commission was created by Congress to honor, commemorate and educate about WW1.

Our programs are to--

inspire a national conversation and awareness about WW1; this podcast is a part of that…. Thank you!

We are bringing the lessons of the 100 years ago into today's classrooms;

We are helping to restore WW1 memorials in communities of all sizes across our country;

and of course we are building America’s National WW1 Memorial in Washington DC.

We want to thank commission’s founding sponsor the Pritzker Military Museum and Library as well as the Starr foundation for their support.

The podcast can be found on our website at ww1cc.org/cn  

on  iTunes, Google Play, TuneIn, Podbean, new this week on Stitcher - Radio on Demand --- as well as the other places you get your podcast --  even on your smart speaker.. Just say “Play W W One Centennial News Podcast.”

Our twitter and instagram handles are both @ww1cc and we are on facebook @ww1centennial.

Thank you for joining us. And don’t forget

to share the stories

you are hearing here today

about the war that changed the world!


Hello Girls - Could one of y’all please connect me with field Marshall Foshe silv vous play - Why thank you ma’am!

So long!


Next week:

  • We speak with the team about the upcoming Sgt Stubby film release
  • Promote reconciliation week events in Reims, June 2018
  • Speak with the curator of the Postal Museum: Women's WW1 Letters exhibit
  • Interview with Commissioner Monique Seefried about commemoration events in Europe
  • 100 Cities / 100 Memorials in Ogden Utah
  • Hear a story about returning American dog tags to France


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