An online subscription is required to access the content on this website.
SUBSCRIBE TODAY to have total access 24 hours a day to the Newberry News.
2018-07-11 / Columnists

Just Bill

WWI Battles Were Awful, and TAS Gang Will Know It
Musings from the Mind of Bill Diem

Now that he is taking five Newberry students to France for the 100th anniversary of the WWI Battle of Amiens, I am sure that Randy Griffis must be one of the most popular teachers at Newberry High School. He probably was before.

He has been teaching history, geography, economics and civics classes since 1998, and the quality of his work is clear from the syllabus I found online for a course in International Politics shared with Lake Superior State University.

It is my bad luck that this trip to France will happen when I’m in Michigan. Otherwise, I would pitch a tent near Amiens and beg Mr. Griffis to let me join his voyage. I could translate for them in restaurants. (“Frites, s’il vous plait,” will get you French fries.)

And I could learn a lot.

Amiens is north of Paris, and at the start of the war was the 10th biggest city in France. During the war it was the biggest city close to the bloody trench warfare. The 1916 Battle of the Somme, east of Amiens, had 1.2 million victims and hardly changed a thing.

By 1918 the European armies were worn out and hungry. I like to read the German novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, every few decades. In spring 1918 Canadian soldiers stopped a German attack on Amiens. In August Allied forces, under British command, counter-attacked and pushed the Germans far to the east, precipitating the end of the war that came at 11:00 a.m. on November 11, 1918. When I lived in London they had a minute of silence at 11:00 a.m. on 11/11, and November 11 is still a holiday in France.

I don’t know how Lorna Gage, Megan Burton, Samuel Massey, Abigail Smithson and Nicholas Manty got so lucky to be chosen for this trip, but they are lucky for at least three reasons:

—First, Mr. Griffis is a veteran of the first Gulf War. He will be an excellent guide, an historian with the authority of military experience. He has all the background necessary to evaluate war as a tool of international politics.

—Second, everyone gets to visit a country that knows it is old. French history goes back to cavemen, and France was a Roman colony. There are ruins under Amiens of the Roman town called Ambianum. The history of the Upper Peninsula was oral tradition for about 12,000 years until the French missionary Pere Marquette founded Sault Ste. Marie in 1668.

—Third, travel is broadening. The Newberry gang will probably arrive at Charles de Gaulle airport, where everything has a high-tech, bigcity feel, but they will be spending time in rural France, seeing smaller towns and villages that will have more in common with Newberry than Paris does. They will see people their age communicating in another language, and they will feel that the world is a big place.

Newberry students travelling in August to France to commemorate “the beginning of the end” of World War I will teach students from other countries about the role of the United States.

“My students had to research the U.S. role in the Battle of Amiens, including a couple of individual soldier’s stories,” said Randy Griffis, the TAS history teacher whose own study of the war led to the invitation to be part of the 100-year anniversary of the Battle of Amiens. Research by the Newberry students will be made into a banner to be displayed at the memorial, and they will explain their research to counterparts from Canada, France, Britain, Australia and Germany.

Choosing the five students, Gage, Burton, Massey, Smithson and Manty, “was the most difficult decision I’ve had to make in my teaching career,” said Griffis.

Five was the limit in the invitation from the U.S. WWI Centennial Commission and the National WWI Museum and Memorial, which are paying for the trip. University High School in Irvine, CA is the only other U.S. school to send five students and a teacher.

Griffis won a fellowship at the National WWI Museum and Memorial several years ago and has done research in that collection in Kansas City.

Gage, a senior, was filmed reciting a poem by a German soldier of WWI, said Griffis, and the poem “will also be recorded by students from all combatant nations and combined into a single video with students from various nations reciting different lines.”

Smithson, a sophomore, will take part in a wreathlaying ceremony at the culmination of the memorial service at the cathedral in Amiens.

The Newberry team will be staying in Albert, just north of Amiens, and visit several battlefields, including the Thiepval Memorial to 72,000 soldiers who died on the Somme battlefield in 1916, and Compiegne, where the Armistice was signed, ending the war.

“I’m really proud of what my kids have accomplished so far with their research and their enthusiasm for the trip,” said Griffis. “It’s not often that Newberry is chosen to help represent the United States in a major multi-national commemoration such as this.”

Will they please choose one of their group to write a nice article for this newspaper?

Return to top