Topekan will examine World War I

Register City Editor

Some of David Murray’s presentation at the 17th annual Buster Keaton Celebration may be a little grisly.
Murray will talk about “World War I: Causes & Effects” on the Bowlus Fine Arts Center stage at 10:10 a.m. Friday. He is classified as a student presenter, a designation that brings a chuckle from the avocational historian.
“I’m 67 years old and an occasional student at Washburn University,” he said. “Guess you’d have to say I’m a non-traditional student.”
Murray’s interest in World War I grew from side trips he took to Belgium and France to visit Western Front battle sites while on business trips with Hill’s Pet Nutrition in Topeka.
“From those experiences I read extensively about the ‘Great War’ and assembled a library of over 100 books on the Western Front and the war in general, specifically American participation 1917-18,” Murray said.
He started making presentations to various groups in Topeka, including the Topeka Genealogical Society and Combat Air Museum.
Murray’s presentation Friday will focus on elements of 20th century history set in motion by World War I: the communist system, America becoming a world power and the breakup of the German, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires.
“The Ottoman Empire yielded artificially created boundaries for states such as Iraq and Palestine — leading to problems today — and the Austria-Hungary breakup gave birth to the muddle of Yugoslavia, Slavs and Muslims cobbled together in an artificial state,” he said. “We know what trouble was caused in the 1990s in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
Murray noted that WWI brought into being and radically redeveloped weaponry and aggressive tactics that still influence modern warfare, including armored tanks and vehicles, submarines, air raids and carpet bombing.
The end of WWI also set the stage for World War II.
“The 1919 Versailles Treaty set responsibility for the war and imposed crippling reparations on Germany, which led to massive inflation and public despair that ravaged that country in the post-war years,” Murray recounted. “The political intrigues and vacuum of power in the country was manipulated by Adolf Hitler, a disgruntled WWI soldier turned politician, and his National Socialist movement.”

MURRAY HAD a world view before moving to Topeka in 1990 and cultivating an interest in World War I.
He was born in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, and joined the Colgate-Palmolive Company in his hometown of Salisbury. After 21 years working in Indonesia, Mexico City and New York City, he took a position with the subsidiary Hill’s in Topeka.
His association with the Keaton Celebration grew from a class with Carol Yoho, a free-lance graphics artist and adjunct instructor at Washburn. She is a frequent Keaton Celebration participant and, knowing this year’s focus was World War I, she recommended Murray as a student presenter.
“For the last seven years I’ve been working to assemble details and histories of Shawnee County doughboy casualties in World War I,” Murray said. “Many tragic stories have emerged from that study.”
In May of next year Murray and his wife will travel to the French-Swiss border to view the spot where the Western Front trench system ended, about 450 miles from its beginning on the beaches of Nieuport, Belgium. He noted the 35th Division (Kansas/Missouri National Guard) was assigned briefly to the French/Swiss area in the Vosges Mountains during its first experience of trench warfare.