World War I engulfed the world in total and devastating warfare with loss of life on an unimaginable scale. With the centenary of this epoch-changing conflict upon us, the stories of the men, women and children whose lives were affected by the fighting and its aftermath, as well as accounts of the battles themselves, will take centre stage.
When Austria–Hungary declared war on 28 July 1914 – one month after the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the issue of the July Ultimatum – the world had begun its descent into a war that would claim the innocence of generations to come. Britain added its backing to France, Russia and Serbia on 4 August 1914, and so was plunged into a four-year period of mud-soaked trench warfare on the Western Front, desert campaigns and pioneering air reconnaissance.
Through military campaigns, large and small, the facts of this ‘war to end all wars’ soon became apparent. The Western Front became a zone of attrition, with small gains costings tens of thousands of lives, particularly in the bloodbath of the Somme in 1916. Here the French and British, along with other Allied forces, lost thousands of men with little to nothing to show for it at the end of the fighting. Meanwhile in Gallipoli, the Allied Dardanelles naval campaign was repelled by the Ottomans, forcing retreat of both land and sea forces. Victories were of the ‘strategic’ nature, such as the First Battle of Marne, and it became a contest of supplies and endurance.
The United States entered the war on 6 April 1917, after Germany resumed unrestricted submarine warfare and it was brought to Wilson’s attention that the German empire was attempting to ally and support Mexico in its conflict with the US. After conscripting over 2 million men to the army, soldiers were transported to reinforce Allied forces. With supplies running thing on both sides of the conflict, the addition of fresh US resources would prove a large factor in victory being swayed towards the Allies on 11 November 1918.
Of course, the war not only brought about death and destruction on a massive scale, but also saw a boom in technological advancement. Aircraft were developed and improved upon, tanks were used for the first time at the Battle of Flers-Courcelette in 1916 and gas warfare became a terrifying facet of the conflict, trialled by the German forces at Second Ypres. Not only that, but there was a great of war poetry, such figures as Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon penning poems that would stick in the public consciousness as a reminder of conscientious objection.
Remembering this crucial war is essential. Remembrance Day and the poppy are just small examples of that act: continuing to talk about it, write about it and keeping the memory of those who fought alive in everyday life will ensure that the sacrifice of a previous generation is never forgotten.