World War I

War Horse as Act of Remembrance

Winding up my Tour de France adventure, I enjoyed my last 24 hours in London. I stayed at the exquisite Ampersand Hotel in South Kensington. They sent me an email a few days before my arrival asking if there was anything they could do to enhance my experience. My friend suggested seeing the stage production of War Horse. The concierge efficiently fetched tickets and after an afternoon of fossicking around bookshops in South Kensington, I duly trundled off to New London Theatre on Drury Lane to see the play.

I tried to read to the book by Michael Marpurgo and got emotionally swamped. It is told in the horse Joey's point of view. And like Black Beauty it is gut wrenching. I may have seen about 5 minutes of the Steven Spielberg movie and could not stand the idea, again, of horses suffering even if make believe. Afterall, they did suffer cruelly in World War I, as did people. So I was a little nervous about seeing a stage production. I was also curious about how they would handle the staging and the horse characters. 

Wow. I mean WOW!!!!  Just the puppetry was worth the admission price to witness. It is amazing. I have since found an awesome Ted Talk that describes how they created Joey. Please watch.

The play beautifully illustrated the complete stupidity of World War I. While it is not unique among wars (all wars are stupid), it is the first where technology completely bamboozled strategists. I can understand sending the cavalry in once against machine guns. But again and again? Stupendously stupid. It was all the more poignant for me because of my Grandma Hazel Olson's beloved horse sold to the US Cavalry. I can only hope that he never made it to Europe--that maybe his high spirits made him too difficult to work with or too attractive to some officer who was on active duty at the Mexican border. 

It is a very moving production, even more thrilling seen in a smallish theater with actors running by right in front of our seats. I realize War Horse has been on stage and travelled the world already so I am not on the cutting edge of theatre. If you have not seen it, make the effort. You will be richly rewarded.

Researching and honoring my great uncle Frank Denham on Le Tour Adventure was worthwhile and added some emotional depth to my experience. I am not going to stop learning about the war either. My favorite conversation on the topic was with my cabbie who gave me a lift from the train station to the Ampersand. With his East End accent he held forth on a number of topics. I told him about my interest in World War I and he said the machine gun was invented by an American living in London, but the British officers did not want to use it (at first) because it "wasn't cricket." (meaning that as gentlemen it was not the proper way to conduct warfare). I responded, "But the Germans have never played cricket." We both shared a rueful laugh. 

All of this remembering while the conflict in Ukraine results in a civilian jet liner shot down, and Gaza rages on; it is a wonder to me that mankind has not wiped itself off the earth yet. Perhaps the reason we yet remain is found in the sparks of creativity that still ignite in puppeteers and writers and many others who choose to spend their energy creating beauty and celebrating truth rather than the dark arts of war. This is the path I choose.

World War I Memories Everywhere in this Part of France

World War I memorial and cemetery for allied troops in Arras.
World War I memorial and cemetery for allied troops in Arras.

You cannot travel far in this part of France without seeing World War I memorials large and small. The graveyard and memorial in Arras was especially moving. 

I was able to go to the Cathedral in Reims (another Notre Dame) and meditate on Uncle Frank Denham for a few minutes. He is not forgotten. 


The Tour television coverage in France includes many quiet moments with the helicopter camera hovering over World War I memorials. I hope the coverage in the US is doing the same. 


Fun and Easy Zone

July 1918 World War I; Wikipedia; Google Images
July 1918 World War I; Wikipedia; Google Images

Mara challenged me to keep my Le Tour Adventure fun and easy. Here is an update. I took K2's advice and ordered the Rick Steve's luggage: both the daypack and the roller/backpack. The size forces you to pack light; however, I will not miss the second pair of jeans when I am carrying it from train station to my hotel and back. Still to do: a practice pack and walk around town this week.

My friend Jim narrowed down where Uncle Frank likely died. I will double check on any available websites I can find. The Germans made a big push into France in Spring of 1918 and the French and American forces pushed back in July 2018. He likely died in Chateau Thierry and the Second Battle of the Marne.  When I am in Reims I will be as close as I will get to the area where he likely fell. If time and bus schedules allow I will go to Chateau Thierry. And if they do not, I will light a candle and remember him at the Cathedral in Reims.

Dust in the Las Vegas area kicked my sinuses up. And this weekend I have had tummy troubles. So I have some training to do on Trixie the road bike to regain some form.

Jens Voigt winning a stage after a breakaway.
Jens Voigt winning a stage after a breakaway.

Ray helped me clarify my stake for the trip: Enjoy a once in a life time adventure and meet amazing people.  Some people I would love to meet: Mark Cavendish, Jens Voigt, Fabian Cancellara, Greg Lemond, and any amazing person Providence puts in my path. Like the Canadians I met in Givors last year who inspired this trip.

I discovered the Imperial War Museum will reopen its galleries with a special exhibit in London July 19. I will make time to visit on my way through London at the end of July. Right after I tour Buckingham Palace's state rooms.

I discovered a great author--Australian John Baxter. He is the author of many books on Paris. A exemplar storyteller, his books are a delight to read. What I really love is he encourages you to be a "flaneur" -- to walk without necessarily any purpose. So instead of making lots of notes while reading Paris at the End of the World, or The Most Beautiful Walk in the World, I am going to let go of an agenda for my free day in Paris.

Bill Reid shooting photos at Ag Art day.
Bill Reid shooting photos at Ag Art day.

Yesterday my friend Bill Reid gave me a photography tutorial during an Ag & Art at Chowdown Farms in Esparto. His help was greatly appreciated after giving up in frustration with the official "Blue Crane Digital" instructional video. It may have well as been in French.  There are also many excellent videos on YouTube. (Hooray YouTube!)

With just a little over a week before I leave, I am getting very excited. I cannot let my mind wander yet! First there is some more consulting work to do and some more prep.

Uncle Frank's Sacrifice

Yesterday I learned quite a bit more about my Uncle Frank. Mom and I drove over to Santa Rosa and met up with her cousin Marilyn and find out more about Frank E. Denham's history and gathered additional photos. Frank E Denham circa sometime around 1915.

I am not a genealogy nerd. My aunt Betty does some research about the family and I am always happy to listen. However, I do not derive much of my identify from my ancestors. Nonetheless, I have found my Great Grandpa Albert Denham quite interesting. He came out to California in the late 1800s from the Missouri Territory. Then went back to Oklahoma for the land rush and then returned to the Fulton area near Santa Rosa, California in 1900. Family lore is that he said, "No land is worth shooting a man over." (Implying this was the only way you could hang on to land in the Rush.) He was very conservative father to his daughters viewing both high school and dances as two great morally corrupting influences.  Come to think of it, his wife Nancy Elizabeth (Lizzie) must have had some gumption too as she traveled with him through these adventures having children along the way. At least there was a railroad by 1869.

Frank was Albert's only son and looks like him in many ways. He was being groomed for working the family farm alongside his dad. Been reading about Germany's machinations to distract the US from joining the Allies by ginning up conflicts with Mexico and Japan or both together. Barbara Tuchman's The Zimmerman Telegram is a non-fiction that reads like a great spy novel. The British come off looking competent, the Wilson administration not so much. This explains why after Uncle Frank was drafted he was first sent to Mexico and then to Britain and ultimately to the front in France.

I learned from staff at the Oddfellows/Santa Rosa Cemetery that Frank was not buried until July 1921, a full three years after his death in France. They surmise that he was buried in a temporary mass grave until they could eventually ship him home. He was the first of the fallen sons of Santa Rosa to be returned. The article in the Press Democrat mentioned city flags would fly at half-mast, businesses would close and full military honors would be presented at his funeral. I hope it brought some comfort to his parents and sisters at the time.

Part of me really wishes he had lived and imagines how our family history might have changed. Then again, knowing my grandparents tumultuous at times relationship, my Mom might not have been born and so on. So best to trust in Providence.

Visiting his grave also gave me more information to aid in identifying where he might have fallen in battle.

Frank's gravestone in Oddfellow's cemetary in Santa Rosa CA

Searching for Uncle Frank

We know what happened to Uncle Frank. He died in battle somewhere in France July 29, 2018. Army Private Frank E. Denham

I always knew I had a great Uncle Frank (my grandmother Olson's brother) who died in World War I. It was a great family tragedy as he was the only boy in the family at time when parent's hopes and dreams for the future were focused on the son. I never knew my great-grandparents but I was told that they never emotionally recovered from Frank's death.

Always anti-war, growing up with school friends obsessed with Vietnam POW bracelets and anti-war protests in the news, my pacifism was clinched when my grandmother told me how her beautiful horse was sold to the cavalry during the war. As a horse-crazy youngster, I could not imagine a greater tragedy. She did not speak of her greater loss--her brother who nicknamed her "Jack" because he wanted a brother.

In school and University it seemed that the first World War was always quickly passed over to spend more time on World War II. As I prepared for the Tour de France adventure and looked at the route, I realized we will pass through many of the battle sites from the War to End All Wars.

I also realized that my knowledge of WWI and specifically my Uncle Frank's part in the conflict was embarrassingly slack . So I have begun a project to rectify this ignorance on my part. First I enlisted the aid of my mother and brother to help find any information we can about Uncle Frank.  I also asked my brother (the history professor) to give me some reading assignments. is very helpful with documents. This is the information I have been able to piece together so far from various sources:

Frank Estel Denham

Born October 6, 1891 in Norman,Oklahoma

to parents Lizzie Denison and Albert Denham (both born in Carroll County, MO)

Sisters Bertha, Ada, Hazel (my Grandmother)

Blue eyes, medium height, slender build (Handsome and popular)

Farmer. Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, CA

Registered in Army October 2, 1917 and assigned to Camp Kearney, CA

Private, U.S. Army (Photo in uniform) Company D 159, Infantry

Killed in action July 29 (circumstances unknown). World War I

Buried in Oddfellows Cemetery, Santa Rosa, CA.

From Press Democrat October 13, 1918: The young man served with Company E on the Mexican border and was sent to Camp Lewis in one of the early draft calls last fall from where he was forwarded to Camp Kearney and assigned to his old regiment, which had then become the 159th U.S. Infantry. He went overseas the last of June, as the family received a brief letter, dated July 12, from England, telling of his arrival safely. Nothing more was heard until the telegram of ...The fact that the 159th Regiment did not arrive in England until July 12, and was in action July 29, shows it was brigaded with the British for training and would seem to account for the delay in getting news of the casualty through to the parents as the reports would have to pass through English headquarters, be transmitted to the American headquarters and then forwarded to Washington, all causing delay in face of the heavy demands in clerical help as the result of such heavy fighting on all fronts for weeks past.

My mom, Karen Olson Tognotti, remembers her mother Hazel telling her that she learned about Frank’s death and had to drive the car into Santa Rosa to tell her sister Ada the news. Some men were working on a bridge and she stopped and told them that Frank was killed. They all stopped work and cried.


My goal is to learn where he most likely fell in battle and pay my respects while I am in France. Please share if you have any tips on how to find this information about where Company D, 159th Battalion might have been assigned in the end of July 2018.


Meanwhile I have read All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. It is incredibly moving. I am not surprised it was never assigned in school since it by "our enemy" a German, and yet that is why it should be required reading. Everyone suffered in the war. Poison gas was used by both sides. It was all so pointless.

Professor Dean Pieper’s suggestions for understanding WWI:

"The BBC has a centenary remembrance on World War I.

There are two novels that would be great Ernest Hemingway's  A Farewell to Arms and Erich Maria Remarque's All Quite on the Western Front.

John Keegan's The First World War and Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August are two non-fiction reads that are worth the time.



What Price Glory 1926

The Lost Patrol 1934

Sergeant York 1941

A Farewell to Arms 1957

Paths to Glory 1957

Gallipoli 1981

The Trench 1999

There are many more films but this gives you a retrospective of some of the better ones."

Please share if you have any WWI books, films or other resources to help my understanding of this war.