A look at ‘The Early Years of WWI’

Next year commemorates the 100th anniversary of the United States entry into World War I.

In honor of that, the Wilton Library and American Legion Post 86 have teamed up to present a two-part program called The Early Years of WWI this November.

Wilton resident Jean-Pierre Lavielle will provide a European perspective of the war during the first presentation on Thursday, Nov. 3, from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

“Americans are familiar with WWII, but not so much with WWI,” said Lavielle.

During his presentation, Lavielle will address the military operations on the Western Front from the beginning of the war in August 1914 until the the arrival of the first American soldiers — known as “doughboys” — in September 1917.

American soldiers were known as “doughboys,” said Lavielle, while British soldiers were nicknamed “Tommies” and French soldiers “Poilus,” which means “hairy.”

Lavielle will discuss four important WWI battles and events during his presentation — the First Marne Battle, the Battle of Verdun; the First Battle of the Somme, and the French and German mutinies of 1917.

These battles, he said, are “symbolic for many reasons.”

Had the French and British armies not stopped the German on the Marne River during the First Marne Battle, Lavielle said, “the Germans would have won WWI in September 1914.”

“Verdun — although it had no strategic interest — was the symbol of French resistance to invasions. That’s why the Germans picked it,” said Lavielle. “The French armies had to defend Verdun at all cost, and they did.”

The Somme Battle was “the bloodiest battle in WWI,” said Lavielle, with 57,000 British casualties in just one day — July 1st, 1916.

“This is the single most disastrous battle in the U.K. military history,” he said.

“The 1917 mutinies exemplify the incompetence of many generals who launched suicidal attacks without regard for the lives of their men. This is a topic which is rarely mentioned.”

Lavielle, who was born in France, said WWI is an interest of “many French men of [his] generation.”

“My two grandfathers fought WWI. My father’s father, who was 19 at the time, fought the Battle of Verdun,” he said.

“There is not a single French family who didn’t have a male at the time — father, son, uncle, et cetera —  who was not drafted.”

More than 1.5 million French soldiers died in WWI, said Lavielle, and the war is “deeply rooted in the French psyche.”

“My two grandmothers, who were teenagers during WWI, told me that they went to church every day during WWI before going to school, and twice on Sundays,” he said.

“It took until 1951 for France to recover the level of population it had in 1914.”

At his WWI talk, Lavielle said he hopes descendants of WWI veterans will “step forward and share with the community their relative’s memories.”

Judge Michael Shay will take an American perspective during the second Early Years of WWI program on Thursday, Nov. 10.

There is no fee, but registration is recommended. Information: wiltonlibrary.org, 203-762-6334.