by Wayne Bednersh
At our spoon convention in San Diego, I was able to buy a tea sized
spoon by the famous French silver manufacturer, Christofle.
What paticularly attracted me to this Albi pattern flatware was the
inscription engraved in the bowl:
"Souvenir of the Great War
Found at Thiaucourt
In the St. Mihiel Drive
Sept. 13, 1917
From this inscription, I am guessing that one of the American soldiers
found this spoon and later had the inscription engraved in the bowl. I
have no idea who Jimmy was but I suspect that he sent it to relatives
at home. There are some initials engraved on the back of the spoon, but
the first letter is not recognizable and the second letter is a "W" and
I suspect that those initials belonged to the original owner.
On Sept. 12, 1917, in a heavy driving wind and 5 day old rainstorm,
General John J. Pershing gave his 300,000 American and 45,000 French
troops the order to attack the well defended (trenches, wire fences,
machine gun nests) German army at a battlefield consisting of the three
villages of Vigneulles, Thiaucourt, and Hannonville-sous-les-Cotes in
the Saint-Mihiel region of France also known as the Western Front.
This was the first major battle of The Great War (World War 1) in which
the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) acted as an independent army and
it was the largest offensive operation ever undertaken by the American
Army up to that date. It was also widely viewed as a test of the
ability of the Americans to fight. This was also the first significant
use of the United States Army Air Service in battle (eventually
becoming the Air Force) and the largest use of air power (about 1475
aircraft) under the command of Col. William (Billy) Mitchell.
Unfortunately the details of the planned attack were published in
a Swiss newspaper the day before, so the attack did not surprise the
The goal was to apply massive force, different battle techniques and
modern armament against the German army which would cause
them to retreat and allow the American army to enter the captured and
fortified French city of Metz in the Lorraine area. The loss of Metz
would be devastating to the German army as it would deny them the
ability to resupply their front line troops. Once Metz was captured,
the Allied army would be able to advance into German territory.
However, everything did not go as predicted. The extremely heavy rain
had soaked the countryside and the roads were virtually impassable. The
infantry soon found itself waist deep in mud and the tanks were unable
to spearhead the advance because the mud and water severely limited
their scope of operation.
The tanks commandered by Col. George S. Patton were bogged down in the
muddy roads and many were severely damaged by the incessant rain.
However, Patton's novel use of tanks is credited with helping to secure
the victory. The infantry also suffered severe casualties, but less
than expected. The American troops with tank and air support were able
to overrun the outnumbered German army, but the advancing
troops soon outdistanced their artillery support and the city of Metz
was not captured.
Despite the severe hardships encountered, the American Army was
victorious and by September 16, victory in the battle had been assured
as the entire St. Mihiel salient was under Allied control. This was a
major test of the resolve of the American troops and proved that the
American army was equal or better than the more experienced European
troops. The American Army gained considerable prestige for this
victory from their Allies and helped to destroy the morale of the
German troops. This battle was one of the major 'turning points' in the
General Pershing wrote a synopsis of the battle. He said:
"At dawn on September 12, after four hours of violent artillery fire of
preparation, and accompanied by small tanks, the Infantry of the First
and Fourth Corps advanced. The infantry of the Fifth Corps commenced
its advance at 8 a. m. The operation was carried out with entire
precision. Just after daylight on September 13, elements of the First
and Twenty-sixth Divisions made a junction near Hattonchatel and
Vigneulles, 18 kilometers northeast of St. Mihiel. The rapidity with
which our divisions advanced overwhelmed the enemy, and all objectives
were reached by the afternoon of September 13. The enemy had apparently
started to withdraw some of his troops from the tip of the salient on
the eve of our attack, but had been unable to carry it through. We
captured nearly 16,000 prisoners, 443 guns, and large stores of
material and supplies. The energy and swiftness with which the
operation was carried out enabled us to smother opposition to such an
extent that we suffered less than 7,000 casualties during the actual
period of the advance."
Christofle has been a symbol of "luxury and elegance" since its
founding in 1830 and it still maintains its reputation for fine
quality silver. Albi is a fiddle shaped pattern which has been produced
on innumerable silver flatware pieces.
*The most famous song from the Great War is George M. Cohan's "Over
There" and is not directly related to this spoon except as it may have
encouraged men to sign up as soldiers.
"Over there, over there,
Send the word, send the word over there
That the Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming
The drum's rum-tumming everywhere
So prepare, say a prayer,
Send the word, send the word to beware
We'll be over, we're coming over
And we won't come back till it's over, over there"
There is a lot of information about the St. Mihiel salient on the web
if you want to do further research.
Click to see the Trench of Death spoon
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