OVER THERE*
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 Jimmy"


St Mihiel bowl spoon

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.
st mihiel ww1 spoon
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 enemy.

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 war.

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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