Sunday, March 26, 2017

Invading Luxembourg

The author at General Patton's grave
American Cemetery in Hamm, Luxembourg

A school concert afforded me an opportunity to launch a small private and thoroughly peaceful "invasion" of Luxembourg this past weekend.  Luxembourg, a nation roughly the size of Rhode Island with a population over half a million, is a prosperous land.  Luxembourg is the only Grand Duchy in the world.   Its fertile agricultural countryside makes it a source of  delicious food and wine.  Today Luxembourg is a stable NATO and EU member state.  But Luxembourg has been invaded many times over its rich history.  In spite of these invasions Luxembourg retains a unique national identity.
Julius Caesar, Aureus
We noted in Italy Invades that Julius Caesar himself invaded Luxembourg "On his way to Britain".  Roman influence in the region had, however, disappeared by the 5th century.

"Mir wëlle bleiwe wat mir sinn,”
“We want to remain what we are.”
Place d'Armes, Luxembourg City
In America Invades we wrote, "The motto of the grand duchy of Luxembourg, one of the tiniest
countries in the world, is, “Mir wëlle bleiwe wat mir sinn,” or “We want to remain what we are.” They seem to have done this remarkably well because it’s one of those European micro-states, like Andorra, Monaco, Liechtenstein, and San Marino, that has managed to last until the present day without being permanently swallowed up by any of their much, much larger neighbors."

Walls of Luxembourg City
In the Place D'Armes square of Luxembourg City we found a column inscribed with the national motto.  Luxembourg, a mouse surrounded by elephants, has done a remarkable of "remaining who they are".  They did so by fortifying the capital of their landlocked nation.    As we noted in Italy Invades, "in 1543, an Italian military engineer arrived in Luxembourg along with a whole bunch of other Italians to restore Luxembourg’s fortifications on behalf of Francis I of France."  ( Later in the 17th century Louis XIV's master of fortification, Vauban was summoned to Luxembourg to reinforce its defenses.  He helped to transform it into the Gibraltar of the North.  Possession of Luxembourg would be disputed by the Spanish, the Austrians, the French the Dutch the Prussians and other great powers.   In 1867 the Treaty of London proclaimed that Luxembourg would be perpetually neutral and that its fortifications must be torn down.  Most were, but many still remain to this day.

In spite of its neutrality, Luxembourg, as we noted in America Invades, was invaded twice by the Germans in the 20th century.  Luxembourg was invaded twice by the liberating armies of Americans in both world wars.

"In World War I, Luxembourg was occupied by the Germans. With the Germans withdrawing rapidly towards the end of the war, the US 33rd Infantry Division ended up, on November 11, 1918, at Stenay, about twenty- five miles from the Luxembourg border. But it did enter Luxembourg after the war, and for instance, in March 1919, the division headquarters were to be found at Diekirch in Luxembourg.

Hitler invaded tiny neutral Luxembourg in the spring of 1940 as part of his campaign against France.
On September 10, 1944, the US 5th Armored Division liberated Luxembourg City (not surprisingly the capital of the country Luxembourg) from German control. However, this wasn’t exactly the end of the battle. Hitler chose to launch his counterattack, the Battle of the Bulge, through the northern part of Luxembourgish territory in December 1944, meaning parts of Luxembourg had to be liberated all over again. The area around Wiltz, for instance, saw very heavy fighting. And American forces were in the Diekirch area again. It was the scene on the night of January 18, 1945, of the famous crossing of the River Sauer by the US 5th Infantry Division.

Ernest Hemingway in WW2
Not all Americans were having such a rough time in Luxembourg, though. On December 17, 1944, Ernest Hemingway arrived in Luxembourg as a war correspondent for Collier’s magazine and was put up in the old mill of Abbé Nicolas Didier. While there, he found the Abbé’s wine cellar, drained several bottles, and proceeded to urinate into them, subsequently giving them the label of Schloss Hemingstein. However, one night in the darkness, he grabbed a bottle, only to find himself having to rapidly spit out, yep, a mouthful his own Schloss Hemingstein."  (

General Patton
USMA West Point, NY
On December 8, 1945 General Patton was involved in an automobile accident that broke his neck.  He lingered in hospital until his death on December 21, 1945.  His two dying requests were 1) that his your driver not be punished for his death and 2) that he be buried amongst the American soldiers with whom he had fought the war.

Both requests were honored and Patton's grave can be found today in the Luxembourg American Cemetery near Hamm, Luxembourg.  5,076 Americans are buried in this cemetery which is the final resting place of so many veterans of the Battle of the Bulge.  In a 1960 letter by Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg she wrote of "the nation-wide feeling of respect and undying gratitude which is inspired by the sacrifice of the soldiers who gave their lives for the cause of freedom."

You can find signed copies of America Invades
Ore regular copies on

You can find signed copies of Italy Invades
Or regular copies here on

Monday, March 20, 2017

World War I Centennial

Cenotaph, Whitehall, London

One hundred years ago this month, Woodrow Wilson ended America’s longstanding policy of isolation and led us into World War I on the Allied side.   Over two and a half million Americans were shipped “over there” to Europe and served in the American Expeditionary Force (AEF).  By war’s end, more than 100,000 Americans would join the ranks of what British Prime Minister Lloyd George termed, without a trace of irony, “the glorious dead.”

US Infantry 27th or New York Division

My own great-great-uncle, John Wells (1895-1951), was a member of the AEF.  Wells served as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 27th Infantry, or New York Division.  He trained with the unit at Camp Wadsworth in South Carolina before deploying to Europe in May of 1918.  In the fall of 1918, this unit saw fierce action in the Somme push and along the Meuse River.  The New York Division helped to break the back of the German Army along the Hindenburg line, leading to Germany’s surrender in November 1918.

Why did Wilson make his fateful decision to enter the “War to end all wars”?  Two of the principle reasons behind Wilson’s decision were the German policy of unrestricted submarine warfare and the Zimmerman Telegram.
Lusitania Sunk

Unrestricted submarine warfare has become a stilted phrase that smacks of dry textbooks and AP history examinations.  It was not so then.  The period prior to World War I was the golden age of ocean travel.  Lindbergh did not fly across the Atlantic until 1927.  The only practical means to travel between North America and Europe was via passenger ship.  These passenger ships were the equivalent of commercial aircraft today.  Thomas Tileston Wells (John Wells’s father), for example, booked passage in 1909 on board the RMS Lusitania, which was destined to be sunk by a German U-boat off the coast of Ireland in 1915, killing around 1,200 passengers, including at least 125 Americans.  In 1916, Germany moderated its submarine policy by pledging not to attack passenger ships without providing for the safety of their passengers and crew. But on January 31, 1917, Kaiser William II reversed course, ordering the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare against Allied shipping. This desperate move helped tip
the United States
 Congress, led by
 President Wilson, 
into declaring war 
on Germany on 
April 6, 1917.
WWI Recruiting Poster
Museum of Flight, Seattle WA
In order to appreciate the full horror of unrestricted submarine warfare, imagine how we might react today if a warring nation state used its jet fighters to shoot down commercial airliners flying toward the cities of its enemy.

Mata Hari was caught by surveillance too
The Zimmerman Telegram is a reminder that much of the “surveillance society” in which we live today had its origins in World War I espionage.  The British built a sophisticated signals intelligence network designed to monitor German radio traffic during the war.  Room 40 was a decryption service of the British Admiralty that would later inspire the code breakers of Bletchley Park in World War II. Their greatest coup of the war was the interception and decryption of the famous Zimmermann Telegram in 1917. This message, sent by the German minister of foreign affairs to the Mexican government, proposed an alliance with Mexico in the event of America’s entry into the war.  Room 40 was also responsible for the capture of World War I’s most famous spy—the tragic case of Mata Hari.
Pope Benedict XV, St. Peter's Rome
A century ago, America and the world were transformed by World War I, which ultimately cost over 17 million lives and was called “the suicide of civilization” by Pope Benedict XV.  This war toppled four empires and led directly to the creation of Syria and Iraq.  We feel the echoes of this conflict even today.

Cenotaph, Whitehall, London

Christopher Kelly is the editor of An Adventure in 1914 – a memoir written by Thomas Tileston Wells about his family’s voyage through Europe on the brink of World War I.

You can purchase signed copies of An Adventure in 1914
Or regular copies on

Monday, February 27, 2017

Déodat de Dolomieu and the Dolomites

Déodat de Dolomieu

"Déodat de Dolomieu (1750–1801) was a French adventurer, savant, and geologist. The son of the marquis de Dolomieu, he was born in the mountainous Dauphiné region of France.

He made a fateful choice by joining the order of the Knights of Malta at age twelve. When he was eighteen, he killed a fellow member of the Order of St. John in a duel.

As a young man, he journeyed through the Tyrollean Alps in what is now northeastern Italy. There he
observed a curious type of rock that bore a resemblance to limestone but did not effervesce in light acid. In 1791, he published a scholarly account of his findings about the rock, which came to be known as dolomite.
Napoleon Bust
Musée de l'Armée, Paris, France
Dolomieu at first embraced the principles of the French Revolution in 1789, until the Reign of Terror began killing many of his friends. He then became an ardent supporter of Napoleon.

In 1799, he was one of the savants that accompanied Napoleon on his invasion of Egypt. On the way to Egypt, Napoleon stopped and sacked the Island of Malta, which had been ruled for centuries by the Knights of St. John. Dolomieu was befriended there by Thomas-Alexandre Dumas de la Pailleterie, a French officer and the mixed-race father of the famous author Alexandre Dumas.

Both Dolomieu and Dumas were captured in 1799 by the Knights of Malta and imprisoned in a fortress in Taranto, on the “heel” of Italy. Dolomieu was held in solitary confinement for twenty-one months, in spite of the protests of the international “republic of letters.”

While in prison, Dolomieu carved a wooden pen and fashioned ink from lamp smoke. He wrote a treatise titled Mineralogical Philosophy, which became a seminal work in geology.
Edmond Dantès and Abbé Faria Chateau D'If, Count of Monte Cristo
The story of Dolomieu would later inspire Alexandre Dumas when he created the character of Abbé Faria in his novel The Count of Monte Cristo. After tunneling through the rocks of the prison at Chateau d’If in an attempt to escape, Abbé Faria wound up in the cell of the wrongfully imprisoned Edmond Dantès. The polymath Faria becomes friend and mentor to Dantès. Faria even writes notes using his own blood for ink. Faria also tells Dantès about a fabulous treasure that is, as Bogart might have put it, “the stuff that dreams are made of.” After winning the Battle of Marengo against the Austrians in 1801, Napoleon insisted on the release of Dolomieu as a condition for the peace that followed. Dolomieu died shortly after his release, a broken man.

Dolomites, Italy
The region of the Dolomites in Northern Italy is a legacy of Dolomieu."

An excerpt from An Adventure in 1914.

You can purchase your own signed copy of 
An Adventure in 1914

Or you can find regular copies on

Monday, February 20, 2017

Boris Akunin

Boris Akunin

Boris Akunin* is a brilliant and witty novelist.  That is one.

Murder on the Leviathan
He writes crime novels that are set in the glittering world of late 19th century Imperial Russia.  That is two.

His hero, Erast Fandorin, combines a strong deductive mind with surprising martial arts abilities.  That is three.

Fandorin's sidekick Masa is a Japanese military doctor (shades of Watson) who instructs his boss in martial arts and Oriental ways.  That is four.

Akunin's plots are constructed with the elegance and craftsmanship of the Fabergé easter eggs that were the traditional Easter gifts of the Romanovs.  That is five.

Putin to Crimea: "All those in Favor of Joining Russia Raise your Hands"

Boris Akunin demonstrated considerable political courage in opposing Putin's 2014 invasion and annexation of the Crimea.  That is six.

The Winter Queen  
In this era of frayed Russian-American relations, it is wise to remember an example of the nobility of the true Russian spirit as epitomized by Erast Fandorin; it is also an entertaining escape.  That is seven.

Here are a couple of my favorite Boris Akunin novels on and

* Boris Akunin is the pen name of Grigol Chkhartishvili, a Georgian who writes in Russian and is a longtime resident of Moscow.

Christopher Kelly is the co-author of America Invades (www.americainvades,com) and Italy Invades (  He recently edited An Adventure in 1914 (

Monday, February 13, 2017

My Great Grandfather, Queen Marie and the Maryhill Museum

It is Valentine's Day 2017.  Love is in the air.   It is only fitting to write about romance.

Thomas Tileston Wells 1865-1946
Queen Marie of Romania 1875 - 1938

My great-grandfather, Thomas Tileston Wells, may have had an affair with Queen Marie of Romania.*  What is the evidence for this assertion?

Queen Marie's Chair
Maryhill Museum
Goldendale WA
1) My own grandmother, Georgina Van Rensselaer (Wells' only daughter), believed that her father had an affair with Queen Marie.
Queen Marie Bust
Maryhill Museum, Goldendale WA

2) Queen Marie had an "open" marriage with King Ferdinand of Romania.  She had many affairs with a number of men including at least one other American  -- William Waldorf Astor.  Queen Marie was a spirited woman and the granddaughter of Queen Victoria.

3) Wells, an American, served in New York City as Honorary Consul from Romania from 1918 until 1941.  Queen Marie, who died in 1938, was, in a sense, Wells' boss.  It must have been unusual and somewhat irregular for an American to serve as a Romanian diplomat.

In 1926 Wells helped to organize Queen Marie's visit to the United States.  Marie had led her nation into war on the Allied side during World War I and was a hero to many Americans.  She was widely accounted to be a fearless Amazonian leader with a much stronger character than her feckless husband.  Queen Marie visited spots such as Niagara Falls.  She also went out west to Washington State where she dedicated the building that became known as the Maryhill Museum in Goldendale on the banks of the Columbia River.

Queen Marie's 1926 Visit to the USA

The Maryhill Museum ( is one of America's most extraordinary museums.  Far from any major city, it is open seasonally each year from March to November.

Native American Gloves
Maryhill Museum
It offers an eclectic combination of Rodin sculptures, Native American art and artifacts from the reign of Queen Marie.  The structure for the museum was built by Sam Hill ( an entrepreneur who was a pioneer in road and highway construction in the west.  This museum is well worth a visit when you are in the northwest.

Maryhill Museum
Goldendale WA
Rodin Thinker
Maryhill Museum of Art

You will learn much more about Wells' adventures and misadventures in An Adventure in 1914!

You can purchase a signed copy of An Adventure in 1914

Or regular copies on

* Who was Queen Marie of Romania?  In America Invades we wrote this about Queen Marie of Romania...

Mrs Cortlandt Schuyler Van Rensselaer
Née Georgina Wells
"My grandmother, Georgina Wells (1902-1997), had visited Romania twenty-one times by her twenty- first birthday, becoming acquainted with Romania’s Queen Marie, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria and daughter of Prince Alfred, brother of the future King Edward VII.

Queen Marie of Romania
During World War I, Romania, like us, initially remained neutral but later, influenced by Queen Marie, joined the Allied side. As a result, most of Romania ended up being occupied by enemy troops in the ensuing conflict. However, Queen Marie, with the assistance of her friend the American dance pioneer Loie Fuller, got hold of a major American loan that helped the Romanians to resist.
When the Russian Revolution took Russia out of the war, Romania found it could not fight on alone, and it was forced to seek peace with the enemy. It only re-entered the war (on the Allied side) on November 10, a day before the armistice.
Loie Fuller Poster
Maryhill Museum of Art
Goldendale WA
After the Allied victory in 1919, Romania received some compensation for all its suffering. Thanks largely, once again, to the energetic efforts of Queen Marie, a woman to some extent in her grandmother’s mold, Romania acquired large tracts of territory that had previously been part of the Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires.

Queen Marie's Crown
Maryhill Museum
In 1926, this soldier queen made a triumphant visit to the United States facilitated by Thomas Tileston Wells. Despite having played such a significant role in World War I, she was not, however, to play any part in World War II. She died in 1938."

You can purchase signed copies of America Invades

Or you can find regular copies here on

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Trajan and the Dacian Invasion

Trajan's Column Rome. Italy

Trajan's Column looms about 13 stories above street level in Rome.  The famous column depicts the Roman invasion of Dacia from the 2nd Century.

The Palazzo Valentini in Rome affords an amazing glimpse into life in a villa in the heart of Rome (  The multi-media tour of the Domus Romane is available in several languages including English and Russian.  Sadly though understandably, photography is not allowed (see video below).  The tour ends with film that offers a detailed explanation of Trajan's Column.

Base of Trajan's Column, Rome Italy
Taken from Palazzo Valentini, Rome
Here is what we had to say about the Dacian invasion in the Romania chapter of Italy Invades: How Italians Conquered the World...

"The Romans, however, had eyes on the land to the north, the territory of the Dacians. They’d already had problems with the Dacians in the first century BC, when the Dacian king Burebista had taken an unwelcome (to Caesar) interest in Roman civil wars. Caesar apparently had plans to attack Burebista, but Caesar’s assassins saved Burebista for a while. Until (different) assassins dispatched him as well.

The relationship between Rome and the Dacians wasn’t always a smooth one in the first century AD either. For example, during the reign of Roman Emperor Domitian, a Dacian army rampaged south into Roman territory. The governor of Moesia, Oppius Sabinus, was killed. The Roman forces pushed the Dacians back, but then they suffered a defeat by the Dacians at Tapae inside what is now Romania. A subsequent Roman victory did not crush the Dacians; and eventually, Domitian, facing a variety of crises elsewhere in the empire, pulled out after agreeing to a humiliating (to the Romans) peace treaty with the Dacian king, Decebalus.

Christopher Kelly & Stuart Laycock
Emperor Trajan, Tower Hill, London
However, Decebalus was not to enjoy his victory for long. In 101, the emperor Trajan led his army north into Dacia. After another clash at Tapae and one at Adamclisi, the Dacians accepted defeat and agreed to peace terms. But Trajan had not seen the last of Decebalus and his Dacians. In 105, Decebalus attacked. Trajan struck back and captured the Dacian capital of Sarmizegetusa after vicious fighting. Decebalus killed himself rather than be captured, and Dacia became a Roman province.

But it would not stay Roman until the end of the empire. The area remained vulnerable to attack from outside the empire; for instance, during the Marcomannic invasions of the second century. And increasingly in the third century, the Goths threatened the area. However, in the 270s, Emperor Aurelian finally decided that crises elsewhere in the empire meant he could no longer hold onto Dacia, and he withdrew from most of the territory that had been taken by Trajan."

You can find signed copies of 
Italy Invades: How Italians Conquered the World

A new Paperback edition of Italy Invades 
is now available for only $

Or regular copies are here on