I just noticed (via google) that my grandfather is mentioned in a recent book on the war: Martin Gilbert, The First World War: A Complete History (Holt, 1994), p. 443, on the allied advance near Soissons on 18 July 1918:
Pershing’s biographer cites the diary of Marvin H. Taylor, who recorded reaching a German machine-gun post where “he encountered a dead German machine gunner seated at his weapon, his hand still on the trigger. He was slumped over, a bullet hole in his forehead and a bayonet thrust in his throat. The gun had an excellent field of fire, and many Americans had died approaching it. Taylor was a humane man, but he laughed aloud at seeing the corpse; it seemed a fit retribution for what the gunner had done to others.”
I suppose now is as good a time as any to break out this item, something lying around unexplained among my grandfather’s WWI memorabilia (in fact, kept in a box with his own medals):
The ubiquitous Iron Cross Second Class, given to as many as four million men during WWI. The question: was this liberated from someone like the unfortunate gunner in the box near Soissons? My father and I recently admitted to each other that we had suspected the same thing. But maybe (and perhaps more likely) it came from some willing, living hand in the long lines of POWs that junior officers like my grandfather had to tend: perhaps traded for cigarettes, writing paper, decent cheese or something. Hard to say. It is not mentioned in his typed journal (though I haven’t searched all the left-out spidery text of the original letters, where it might still be found). If he never mentioned it, does that fact suggest that it may indeed have been pulled from a corpse, an act of which he was not proud? Or were such mini-trophies passed around through allied ranks without a thought, not considered important enough to mention? While still in training camp in 1917 Taylor had written of his desire to bring back a Prussian helmet. I think, in fact, that he had written this to his girlfriend, whose grandparents were all German immigrants…
It’s hard to comprehend the complexity of the context of this and similar war relics. As heirlooms go, it definitely belongs in the category of ‘what on earth do we make of this?’
I have 70 pp. (out of 250 pp. of the typescript) reasonably well edited. Will work on format & post soon—on the outside site nltaylor.net, not in the blog.