Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Palais des Nations/Palace of Nations, Geneva, Switzerland

Here is a great work for peace in which all can participate. The nations must disarm or perish. Be just and fear not. – Robert Cecil, 1865-1958

Formation of the League of Nations/La Société des Nations was a key element of the Paris Peace Conference convened in 1919. The League was conceived as an intergovernmental organization to prevent war through collective security, and to settle disputes between countries through negotiation and diplomacy. Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – American Red Cross Christmas Drive

Answer the Red Cross Christmas roll call. All you need is a heart and a dollar.

WW1 was a period of unprecedented growth for the American Red Cross. It grew from 107 chapters in 1914 to 3864 in 1918. By the war’s end, nearly one-third of the US population was either a donor to the Red Cross or serving as a volunteer … over 20 million adult members, over 11 million Junior Red Cross members and 8.1 million volunteers.

The organization served at home and in the war zone, supplying hospitals and canteens, offering civilian relief and aid to military dependents.

Illustrator Ray Greenleaf created this poster for a Christmas fundraising campaign. I found this copy in a display of WW1 posters at the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum in Geneva, Switzerland.  

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – International Prisoners of War Agency archives, Geneva

The Canadian Centre for the Great War recently posted about Special Service companies that guarded military prisons and prisoners of war. This reminded me of the archives of the International Prisoners of War Agency at the International Red Cross Museum in Geneva, which I visited last fall. The Agency was established in August 1914, with a mandate to restore contact between people separated by war – prisoners of war, civilian internees, and civilians in occupied territories. During the war, its volunteers documented close to 2.5 million POWs.

Using the lists of prisoners of war provided by the warring States as a basis, the Agency made out an index card for each prisoner. These cards were classified by nationality, in files which also contained requests for information. As soon as a piece of information was matched with a request, the Agency was able to send a reply to the family or the place of origin of the prisoner of war concerned. (ICRC Resource Centre)

According to THE INTERNATIONAL PRISONERS-OF-WAR AGENCY: The ICRC in World War One, the archives has 400 linear metres of records, including:

  • 20 linear metres of general records recounting the activities of the Agency
  • 2,413 volumes of information – 600,000 pages – provided by the belligerents (lists of prisoners, lists of persons who died in combat or in captivity, investigation reports, lists of persons repatriated, etc)
  • 5,119 boxes, containing about six million index cards. 

These photos show some of the original index cards. A simple display, effective at conveying the overwhelming numbers. The deteriorating records have been digitized and are searchable at

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Association des dames françaises and Croix-Rouge française poster, Geneva

Images of wounded soldiers were used to evoke compassion to raise money for medical care. The Association des dames françaises was one of three groups that formed the Croix-Rouge française. This 1916 poster is part of a display of WW1 posters in the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum in Geneva, Switzerland.  The museum lists the artist as J Loney, while other sources credit Lucien Hector Jonas.

Association des dames françaises, Croix-Rouge française
Aidez-nous à soigner nos blessés. Achetez les timbres à l’effigie de nos Généraux
Le Carnet de 20 Timbres : 1Fr.
En vente :
Au siege social, 12 rue Gaillon, Paris
Dans les comités de province
Dans les bureaux de tabac 

Association of French Ladies, French Red Cross
Help us care for our wounded. Buy stamps in the image of our Generals
Booklet of 20 stamps: 1 franc
On sale:
At headquarters, 12 Gaillon Street, Paris
In the provincial committees
At tobacconists.

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Ashenden, or the British Agent

One unexpected pleasure of this project is delving into books written by authors I know by reputation, but never got around to reading. And so I welcome Somerset Maugham into my realm.

Maugham worked for the British Intelligence Department during WW1. Ashenden, or the British Agent is a series of related short stories based on his experiences. That said, Maugham is quick to note that the facts have been fictionalized: Continue reading

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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Palais Wilson, Geneva

The League of Nations/Société des Nations was established by the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. The League was headquartered in Geneva. Its permanent home from 1920 to 1936 was in the repurposed Hôtel National, renamed Palais Wilson in 1924 after the death of US President Woodrow Wilson. While the US never joined the League of Nations, Wilson played a key role in establishing the League of Nations at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference that lead to the Treaty of Versailles after WW1.

Palais Wilson has a prominent place on the Geneva waterfront, overlooking Lac Léman.

The League of Nations headquarters moved to the purpose-built Palais des Nations in 1937. Palais Wilson ultimately fell into disrepair and was damaged by fire in the 1980s. It was restored and renovated in the 1990s. It is now returned to a role in international affairs, as headquarters for the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

I like this description from a March 2004 UN publication:

Today, staff of the Palais Wilson enjoy its glories – a broad lakefront view, high ceilings, wide hallways, a grand entrance and easy access to downtown city streets – along with its oddities: unevenly sized offices, with ceilings too high or too low, squeaky wood parquet floors in many hallways, an out-of-the-way 5th-floor attic with an improvised gym and weight room, a cafeteria view that glares into an adjacent hotel swimming pool, and a main street entrance opening on a narrow cul-de-sac at the end of the No.8 bus line. 

(David Winch, Rebirth of a Palais – The Colourful Past and Dynamic Present of a UN Landmark, reprinted in AAFI/AFICS Bulletin, Vol 63, No 4, Sep 2004, p 29)