31/12/1918 Pestilence in Samoa

The armistice has paused the fighting on the Western Front, but the struggle of mankind against the influenza pandemic continues. The second, extremely virulent strain of the epidemic is cutting a swathe across the world, bringing death and destruction to places that the war barely touched. One of these is German Samoa, which has been occupied by New Zealand since 1914. Unlike in nearby American Samoa, the New Zealanders failed to institute an effective quarantine, so when a ship landed in November, its infected passengers were able to spread the contagion throughout the colony.

The Samoans prove to be exceptionally vulnerable to the influenza. By now nearly 90% of them have been infected and a fifth of the islanders (7,542 people) have died. In American Samoa however the governor’s quarantine has meant that there have been no flu cases. As the shock of the last two months of horror begin to pass, the German Samoans begin to compare their situation with that of their neighbours, seeing their calamity as the product of New Zealand’s maladministration. Some begin to argue that if they cannot be entirely free of imperialist shackles they would be better off under US rule.

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New Zealand news paper report (New Zealand History: Reporting Samoa’s influenza pandemic)

Samoan obituaries (New Zealand History: Samoan influenza obituaries)

Holding the line

I am a bit tied up with Important Things right now and so am falling a bit behind in this important Great War endeavour. These are some of the things that happened since the my last post, which I hope to return to shortly.

29/12/1918 The Independent Social Democrats leave Ebert‘s coalition in protest at the German Chancellor’s decision to send troops against the People’s Navy Division on Christmas Eve.

31/12/1918 In less than two months flu has claimed the lives of 20% of Western Samoa‘s population.

2/1/1919 Criminal investigations open into atrocities ordered by Turkey’s leaders during the war.

3/1/1919 Emir Faisal reaches an agreement with Zionist leader Chaim Weizman to support Jewish immigration into Palestine.

3/1/1919 The Red Army occupies Riga. In response to the Bolshevik invasion, Latvia’s government seeks to form an armed force of German volunteers.

4/1/1919 A bizarre and ultimately unsuccessful attempt by an American officer to kidnap the Kaiser.

5/1/1919 Demonstrations in Berlin by the far left Spartacists escalate into an armed uprising against Ebert’s government.

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Spartacists (Wikipedia: Spartacist uprising)

28/12/1918 Ireland’s election results: Sinn Féin landslide and the first woman elected to the House of Commons #1918

Ireland voted on 14 December as part of the United Kingdom’s first general election since 1911. Today the votes are finally counted and the results reveal that Sinn Féin has definitively supplanted the Irish Parliamentary Party as the voice of Irish nationalism, with the IPP winning just 6 seats to Sinn Féin’s 73. John Dillon, the IPP’s leader, loses his East Mayo seat to Sinn Féín leader Éamon de Valera, who is currently in prison in England after being arrested earlier this year on suspicion of involvement in an outlandish German plot to invade Ireland. Unionist parties meanwhile dominate in the north east of the country, where many Protestant voters fear the consequences of self-rule in mainly Catholic Ireland. This is also where the Irish Parliamentary Party wins most of its seats; IPP candidates are more used to battling on against adverse circumstances here.

Apart from the north east, the electoral map of Ireland is now a sea of dark green, representing Sinn Féin victories. The only exceptions to the Sinn Féin sweep are Waterford City, where William Redmond is elected to the seat previously held by the late John Redmond, his father and the former leader of the IPP, and Rathmines in Dublin, where Unionist candidate Maurice Dockrell is elected.

Two women ran for Sinn Féin and one of these, Constance Markievicz, is elected. Like De Valera she played a leading role in the 1916 Rising and like him she is also currently in jail in England.

Sinn Féin candidates have secured election on an abstentionist ticket: they have promised not to take their seats in Westminster but instead to assemble as an Irish parliament in Dublin. Now those elected Sinn Féin representatives who are not on the run or in jail prepare to meet in January as the first sitting of a sovereign Irish parliament, to be known in the Irish language as Dáil Éireann.

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Sinn Féin election poster (RTÉ: Election 1918 – what you need to know about how Ireland voted)

Constance Markievicz (Wikipedia: Constance Markievicz)

28/12/1918 Britain’s votes are counted: Lloyd George’s coalition wins a landslide victory #1918Live

Two weeks ago the United Kingdom held its first election since 1911. Because of the large numbers of postal ballots from men serving overseas with the armed forces, the votes are only counted today. And the result is a landslide victory for the Conservatives and Prime Minister Lloyd George‘s faction of the Liberals. Lloyd George has just led the country to victory against Germany, so it is perhaps not too surprising that voters have rallied to him and his Conservative allies.

Asquith‘s faction of the Liberals win an impressive number of votes (only slightly less than Lloyd George’s) but lose most of their seats; Asquith himself fails to secure re-election. Aside from the coalition’s popularity, Asquith suffers from his own association with the less successful early years of the war. His long opposition to votes for women may also have counted against him now that women are voting for the first time. Labour meanwhile win more seats than the Asquith Liberals and substantially more votes than Lloyd George’s Liberals; although they are only the fourth largest party in parliament, their power is clearly on the rise.

Although women now have the vote, the election is not a particularly successful one for women candidates. Christabel Pankhurst, a leading suffragette, narrowly fails to secure election and is defeated by John Davison of Labour. The only one of the sixteen women’s candidates elected is Constance Markievicz of Sinn Féin. Markievicz stood on an abstentionist ticket and is currently in jail, so she will not be taking her seat in the House of Commons.

Markievicz was elected in Ireland. The results there have followed an entirely different pattern to the rest of the United Kingdom.

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David Lloyd George (Wikipedia: David Lloyd George)

Constance Markievicz (Badass of the Week)

Results map (Wikipedia: 1918 United Kingdom general election)

24/12/1918 Berlin’s Christmas Eve Battle #1918Live

It is Christmas Eve. Across Europe people are preparing for the season of goodwill to all men. But not in Berlin, where rival groups of men are today trading gunshots.

The German revolution first stopped the German navy from launching a suicidal attack on the British fleet, before overthrowing the Kaiser and hastening the end of the war. Now Friedrich Ebert leads a coalition government of his own Social Democrats (the SPD) and the slightly more radical Independent Social Democrats (the USPD). Preparations are underway for fully democratic elections to be held early next year.

No one really knows whether the German revolution is now essentially over, with the future being one of gradual reforms improving the lives of the SPD’s working class supporters, or if this is just a transitional phase akin to the rule of Kerensky‘s Provisional Government in Russia. Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg of the Spartacist League hope that Ebert’s government will soon be replaced by a government based on workers’ councils, as supposedly is the case in Soviet Russia. Ebert meanwhile fears that any sign of unrest has been whipped up the Spartacists as a prelude to a coup attempt by them.

The Volksmarinedivision (People’s Navy Division) is a unit of revolutionary marines that were stationed in Berlin in the early days of the revolution, currently billeted in the former royal palace. Now a dispute has arisen between them and the commander of the city garrison, Otto Wels. Wels held back the marines’ pay; in return they have now mutinied, abducting him and roughing him up.

Ebert fears that the marines are preparing to spearhead a Spartacist putsch. He may also be coming under pressure from Groener, the army’s quartermaster-general, to do something about the unruly marines. So he orders regular troops to attack the palace and suppress the marines.

The assault on the palace begins with an artillery bombardment and then a fire fight erupts between the two sides. However the attack turns into something of a fiasco. The marines easily repel the army’s assault. They find themselves being assisted by armed civilians and members of the police force. There are even reports of soldiers switching sides and joining the Volksmarinedivision.

At the end of the day Ebert’s attempt to crush the marines has proved an embarrassing failure. His coalition partners in the USPD meanwhile are furious, as he launched the attack without consulting them. But the Volksmarinedivision makes no move to overthrow Ebert’s government; perhaps they are not actually in league with the Spartacists after all?

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Soldiers of the People’s Navy Division (LeMo – Lebendiges Museum Online: Die Weihnachtskämpfe 1918)

Members of the Volksmarinedivision defending the Neptune Fountain (Wikipedia: Skirmish of the Berlin Schloss)

24/12/1918 Striking back against the Bolsheviks: Kolchak routs the Red Army and storms Perm #1918Live

With the defeat of Germany on the Western Front the main threat to the established order of Europe is now Bolshevism. Lenin and his Bolsheviks have taken power in Russia and overturned the prevailing order of society there, executing the royal family, seizing property and reversing traditional hierarchies. Across Europe and beyond the fear of those in power is that something similar might now happen in their own countries. Consequently their policemen are on guard for any sign of Bolshevik contagion spreading to their own disgruntled working classes.

The end of fighting on the Western Front and the Middle East has freed up large numbers of Allied troops. Large stocks of war materials are no longer needed for the struggle against Germany and Turkey. Could some of these soldiers and some of this materiel be sent to aid the White armies fighting against the Bolsheviks? Allied troops have already established themselves in ports on the periphery of the former Russian Empire: Archangelsk and Murmansk in the north, Vladivostok in the far east, and Odessa, Sevastopol and Novorossiysk in the south. The Allied forces thus far deployed are too small to seriously affect the outcome of the Russian Civil War, but White leaders hope that they are just the advance guard of larger intervention forces. Allied material aid to the Whites has also been relatively modest thus far, but again, the anti-Bolshevik leaders hope that more is on its way.

Trotsky‘s reorganisation of the Red Army had seen it win a number of victories but now perhaps the pendulum is swinging in the other direction. Admiral Kolchak has reinvigorated White forces in the Siberian theatre, with his troops no longer needing the backing of the Czechoslovak Legion to take on the Red Army. Today Kolchak’s men capture Perm, an industrial city in the Urals. In the fighting large numbers of Red Army troops surrender to Kolchak; they appear to have been sent into the battle without adequate training or winter clothing. The Red Army troops appear also to be suffering from food shortages, a consequence of disorganisation in the Bolsheviks’ rear and the alienation of the peasantry by the Red Terror. This is all very promising for Kolchak, as it suggests that the Red Army might just be on the brink of disintegration.

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Kolchak reviewing troops (Wikipedia: Russian Civil War)

16/12/1918 German troops evacuate Finland; Friedrich Karl of Hesse renounces the Finnish throne #1918Live

Earlier this year, with the support of German troops, Finnish conservatives defeated socialist revolutionaries in a short and brutal civil war. Since then the country appeared to falling ever closer into the German orbit, with German troops remaining in the country and a treaty signed binding Finland to Germany. The Finnish government even went so far as to invite Prince Friedrich Karl of Hesse, the Kaiser‘s brother in law, to become their king.

Germany’s defeat has sundered its link with Finland. The armistice obliged it to evacuate its troops from all occupied territories and today the last German troops leave Finland. With the Kaiser now overthrown and in exile in the Netherlands, his brother in law has become less appealing as a ruler. Seeing the way the wind is blowing, Friedrich Karl renounces his throne, without ever setting foot in his Finnish kingdom. In Finland Carl Gustav Mannerheim, the victorious commander in the civil war, is appointed as regent while the country’s leaders ponder whether to formally establish a republic.

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Karl Friedrich of Hesse (Almanach de Saxe Gotha: Kingdom of Finland)

Carl Gustav Mannerheim (Wikipedia: Finnish Civil War)