Nature morte and the expert’s voice

The referenced chapter is paradigmatic for Ross’s book Wir draußen (Us out there) that was compiled from his previously published war reports, mainly in the Berlin Vossische Zeitung. But it is also instructive for Ross’s Berlin lecture, which mixed information on military strategy and the psychological consequences of fighting and patriotic slogans.

The chapter is based on one of the numerous articles Ross published during the war. In contrast to the majority of Ross’s press reports it was the only one of which the title was changed for the book—a sign that Ross viewed his essay as an important contribution to the assessment of warfare experiences.1 Its significance is attested, too, by its being cited as a “remarkable” depiction of German conduct of war in English-language newspapers.2

Like in many contemporaneous texts, the combination of personal frontline experience and its abstraction to a more general level is characteristic.3 The depiction of Verdun’s landscape as being reminiscent of a still life painting (or nature morte) frames a substantial part of the report. Ross delivers detailed, expert comments on technical developments since the outbreak of war and the possibilities of artillery and infantry in both defense and attack. Trench warfare demands not only more, and more elaborate, technical devices and strategic know-how, but also extraordinary psychical strength (“nerves of steel”). Since the armies of the Central Powers are as well-equipped as those of the Allied the conflict can only be decided in favor of those with extraordinary perseverance.4

Judging from the reviews of Ross’s Berlin talk (see The military strategist and When two ‘experts’ meet), the lecture must have followed the same line of argument as the referenced chapter, but probably aimed for a stronger emotional effect. In his live performance, Ross added a special, patriotic emphasis on perseverance (“Durchhalten!”). Soon this well-balanced distribution of the core themes would shift in favor of propagandistic contents (see Shift to propaganda).

Katalin Teller

Colin Ross. Vor Verdun. In: Wir draußen. Zwei Jahre Kriegserlebnisse an vier Fronten. Berlin; Wien: Ullstein; 1916; 392-396.

Topic: The Great War
Case: Speaking engagements


1 Colin Ross. Der Kampf um Verdun. Vossische Zeitung: 1916 Mar 14; 136 Abend-Ausgabe; [1-2]. See Library.

2 Anonymous. Huns’ Task at Verdun. Remarkable narrative of German officer. The Falkirk Herald: 1916 Apr 12; 6829; 3 and the comments to Colin Ross. “Ground to pieces”. The Verdun drive. The bitter truth. The Sun: 1916 Jun 3; III (722); 8. See Library.

3 See Daniel Ute. Bücher vom Kriegsschauplatz. Kriegsberichterstat-tung als Genre des 19. und frühen 20. Jahrhunderts. In: Wolfgang Hardtwig; Erhard Schütz eds.: Geschichte für Leser. Populäre Geschichtsschreibung in Deutschland im 20. Jahrhundert. Stuttgart: Steiner; 2005; 93-121.

4 In contrast to the many war reporters who demonized the enemy, Ross often appreciated the skills of the ‘other side’. See also Charlotte Heymel. Touristen an der Front. Das Kriegserlebnis 1914–1918 als Reiseerfahrung in zeitgenössischen Reiseberichten. Berlin; Hamburg; Münster: Lit; 2007; 248.

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