Over, 7,500 Hull men died in the First World War. Over 1,200 of these were sailors working with the fishing fleet, or serving with the Merchantile Marine, the Royal Navy and the Royal Navy Reserve. They carried out vital war work, bringing in supplies, transporting troops and minesweeping the seas
There were nearly another 1,500 men who were born in Hull, but who lived elsewhere. They died fighting for Australia, Canada, New Zealand and America. There are many others, who enlisted in Hull or who were associated with the City, but are not usually remembered on Hull war memorials. As Hull had four large hospitals and was the port of entry for repatriated prisoner of wars, servicemen from all over the world are buried in Hull. The Kingston Upon Hull Memorial aims to remember all those with a Hull connection who died in the First World War.
There are over a hundred families on the Hull Memorial that lost two or more of their family. Sometimes fathers, sons and brothers were lost on the same day. Some families lost three sons, other Hull families lost four sons, including all their children in the First World War. At least one in six Hull families lost a direct relative. Many others would lose close friends, work colleagues or others known to them. Each death was irreplaceable and an individual tragedy for someone.
Unfortunately, not all deaths were recorded in official casualty figures, particularly if soldiers died of sickness, accidents or were discharged home with wounds, of illness. By 1924 the Ministry of Pensions reported that there were 20,000 war wounded living in Hull. Although they survived the war, they are rarely recorded on war memorials. What follows here are snippets of some of those people who died, whose deaths were reported in the local newspapers.
Influenza Epidemic 1918-1919
A separate, but related event to the Great War, was the great 1918 flu pandemic. This deadly flu virus attacked more than one-third of the world's population, and within months had killed more than 50 million people – three times as many as the World War I – and did it more quickly, than any other illness in recorded history. Unlike other flu outbreaks which happen every year and vary in severity, this particularly flu virus attacked young, healthy adults, aged between 20-40. There was no cure, no vacine and little support that medicine could provide. It affected 200,000 British troops, 400,000 French and 500,000 German troops.
The origins of this virulent new strain of the flu are still unknown. It was first observed in Fort Riley, Kansas, USA, and is believed to have been accidentally carried to Europe by infected American forces personnel. One in every four Americans had contracted the influenza virus. The disease spread rapidly through the continental US, Canada and Europe. It eventually reached around the globe, partially because many were weakened and exhausted by the famines of the World War.
It was nicknamed ‘Spanish flu’ as the first cases were in reported in Spain's uncensored press. Newspapers during World War One, were censored, (Germany, the United States, Britain and France all had media blackouts on news that might lower morale) so although there were influenza (flu) cases elsewhere, it was the Spanish cases that hit the headlines. In Spain some 8 million people infected in May 1918 and one of the first casualties was the King of Spain. In Spain they called it 'French Flu'.
In three waves the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918-1919, infected 500 million people across the world, including remote Pacific islands and the Arctic, and killed 50 to 100 million of them. This was three to five percent of the world's population, making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history. This particular virulent strain of flu was unusual, as it was most deadly for those between the ages of 20 to 35, making war veterans among the most susceptible. It was distinct in that it had a rapid onset and it was not unusual for victims to die within hours. Another oddity was that the influenza appeared most deadly during the Summer months of the Northern Hemisphere, rather than the Winter.
The Beginning of the War for Britain
Britain in 1914
Britain at the start of World War One, was a much different place than today. Britain in 1914 ruled the largest empire in history, through industrial might, commercial prowess and maritime supremecy. Britain through its colonies, dominions, protectorates and mandates, controlled about a quarter of the World's land surface and some 435 milion people, or 20% of the world's population. Half of these people were Hindus. The legal, linguistic and cultural influence of Britain was worldwide and immense.
Britain was the wealthiest country in the world and had the largest and most powerful navy. Britain built 50% of the world's tall ships, and 40% of the all the world's merchant fleet flew the British flag. Only Germany produced more than Britain economically. Unchallenged at sea, Britain adopted the role of global policeman. Alongside the formal control it exerted over its own colonies, Britain's dominant position in world trade meant that it effectively controlled the economies of many countries, such as China, Argentina and Siam. British imperial strength was underpinned by new technologies, like the steamship and telegraph, which allowed it to control and defend the empire.
Britain's population was about 46 million and it was considered very overcrowded. From 1900, one in twenty British citizens emigrated to the colonies for a better life. In 1912, 300,000 people left Britain. The majority moved to the United States, Australia and Canada.
Life in Britain could be very poor. About 80% of the British people were 'working class' and 90% rented their homes, rather than owned them. One percent of Britiain's richest people owned 70% of the wealth. The average weekly wage was only £1.40. Life expectancy for a wealthy man was 55 years. Most people in poorer parts of Cities were lucky to live beyond 30 years old. Beer was 2p a pint.
It was only compulsory to attend school until the age of 12. Many children left school early to work and support their families. Only 6% of children remained at school over the age of 16. Five million women worked, mostly as maids, cooks and servants, but they did not have the vote and there were no female Members of Parliament. Only half of men could vote. The First World War would change Britain.
Europe in 1914
If Britain was the worlds' Superpower, Europe in 1914 was the most wealthy and powerful continent on earth. While past civilisations might have built great cities, invented gunpowder or algebra, nothing could compare to Europe's material and technological culture. Europe was integrated more then, than it had ever been, intrinsically linked by flows of goods, money and people. Europe was an engine room of enterprise and innovation, densley interconnected and criss crossed by railway lines and telegraph wires. Europe represented the summit of interdependence, with each country relying on its neighbours for resources, markets or access to the rest of the world. The GDP of Europe before the First World War was not equalled again until 1970. Empire was Europe's supreme product. Imperialism expressed National prestige and superiority and was seen as a legitmate way of organising and improving the world. Little thought was given to the exploitation of indigenous people. Even Europe's smaller nations like Denmark, Portugal, Belgium or the Netherlands, had empires in the Caribbean, south east Asia or central Africa. Only Austria and Hungary had no colonial empire. However, the slaughter and barbarism of the First World war ended Europe's credibility as a civilising force. Europe had squandered its wealth fighting the war and many of its nations were in debt. The war and the peace that followed, would change and challenge Europe's dominance. While London and Paris remained the capital cities of the world largest empires, the Versaille Treaty, signalled a new world order of Nation States running affairs, rather than Empires. The German Kaiser would flee to exile in Holland, his empire would become the German Republic. The German capital city would be moved from Berlin to Weimar. The Austrian- Hungarian empire, built up over centuries, would after four years of war, be carved into the new states of Czechoslovakia. Both Austria and Hungary would be reduced in territory. Austria which was almost completely German speaking, would be forbidden from uniting with Germany again. The once grand imperial capital of Vienna would become an oversized capital of a much smaller Austria. In eastern Europe', Poland re-emerged as a new country. The Balkans became Yugoslavia. Russia wracked by revolution and civil war, became a Soviet Union of states. The Tsar and his family were shot. The Russian capital was moved from Petrograd to Moscow. At the end of the Great war, the Ottoman Empire was dismantled and a new country called Turkey was created. Arab territorries fell under the political influence or direct control of Britain and France, with London replacing Constantinople as the ultimate master of Jerusalem. The Great War was the beginning of the end for Europe's predominance in world affairs, and for its claim to civilisational superiority. The only countries to emerge from the Great war, stronger, richer and more influential, were Japan and the United States.
The British Expeditionary Force (BEF)
Under the 1839 Treaty of London, Britain was duty bound to protect Belgium. When Germany invaded Belgium on 4th August 1914, and refused a British ultimatum to withdraw, Britain mobilized the BEF. To a meticulously planned, pre war timetable, the BEF arrived in Belgium within 12 days to halt the German advance. This mobilisation of the BEF was phenomenal. One division alone, contained 19,000 men, 5,600 horse, 75 guns, and 650 wagons. It occupied in column, ten miles of road and required 90 trains to transport. Britan transferred 4 divisons in just 12 days, with the 2nd Corps operating near La Bassee, and 3rd Corps, based at St Omer, in just the first 3 days.
Contrary to popular belief, the BEF were not Britain's best troops. The majority, were relatively recent enlistments, with a high proportion having less than two years service. The more experienced soldiers, were reservists who had left the army years ago, and their standard of fitness and miltary knowledge varied considerably. However, the quality of Britain's military training was good and the majority of its Officers and NCO's were experienced and battle hardened. The British Battalion system was also an excellent way of bonding troops into an effective fighting force.
The Four Divisions of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), sent to France in 1914, numbered approximately 100,000 men. Although outnumbered by the Germans by at least ten times, the BEF halted the German advance from 23rd August 1914, at Mons, Le Cateau, and then along the River Marne.
These first three weeks of the war were a critical period, in which the German plans to end the war at a stroke were stopped. While the BEF was successful in holding the Germans at bay, much of the Army was destroyed in the fighting. Between 5th August and 30th November 1914, the BEF suffered 86,237 casualties. These represented a large core of the Professional British Army. To replace these numbers and commanders, Britain had to quickly recruit and train New Armies.
Thereafter, the 'Western Front' developed into a line of opposing trenches, stretching 460 miles, from the North Sea to Switzerland. There were 25,000 miles of trenches, enough to wrap around the entire planet - front line trenches, reserve and support trenches, connected by communication trenches. This 'front line' barely moved for more than two years. Both sides were evenly matched and although they produced deadly new weapons, like tanks, aircraft, and gas attacks, to break the deadlock, these were soon countered, to create a tactical stalemate The civilian population from France and Flanders was evacuated and the occupying forces settled into the long, grinding routine of trench warfare. The Germans were quick to seize the high ground and dug their trenches in deep, taking advantage of the better soil conditions. This gave them a great defensive advantage over the attacking allies.
In the first two weeks of October 1914, the BEF was moved from the central sector of the front to Ypres and Flanders. This move shortened its lines of communications which ran through Dunkirk, Calais and Boulonge. Britain was able to protect these ports which were vital to its own supplies and reinforcements, and to the Royal Navy's command of the Channel. The Battle of Neuve Chappell between the 10-13th March 1915, was an indication of things to come. Britain's Royal Flying Corps was used for the first time to take observation photos of the German defences. This innovation allowed the BEF artillery to accurate target the Germans and blow a six mile hole in the German front line. However, British telphone cables had been broken by the German shell fire and poor communications with the artillery meant that the BEF infantry could not advance until the barrage stopped. This delay alowed the Germans to regroup. When the BEF 1st Army, eventually attacked, the Germans were ready for them. Some 200 German troops from the Jager 11 Battalion, armed with two Maxim machine guns, firing 600 bullets a minute, held 9,000 British and Indian Troops, at bay for 90 minutes. They could not be moved, as the British artillery was running low on shells. A counterattack by the 16,000 Germans was similarly mowed down by machine guns, but pushed the British back to almost where they began. The battle killed 21,000 men, some of the BEF's best troops (Ten Victoria Crosses were awarded), but achieved tactically nothing It did however expose the futility and costly stalemate of trench warfare,- massive artlillery bombardments, followed by calamitous infantry assaults and costly counter attacks, with little gain. A pattern to be repeated across the entire front line, for next three years.
Over the next four years the BEFs strength rose to 50 Divisions, and 12 overseas Commonwealth Divisions. This comprised troops from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Newfoundland and the British West Indies.
The British and Commonwealth forces fought a number of bloody battles in the defence of the Ypres salient. Other major battles, like the Somme, Messines, Cambrai, Arras and Passchendaele took place across the entire front line during the course of the war.
In March 1918, following the earlier capitulation of Russia in the East, Germany with over a million extra troops, began their great offensive on the Western Front aiming to finish the war. Their sweeping advances reclaimed all of the ground the Allies had won before. However, by August 1918, the Germans were a spent force. They had lost many of their best troops in the offensive. The pitted battlefieds meant their supply lines were overstretched and slow. German troops became hungry, exhausted and disillusioned. While the German offensive had made large advances, their land gains were not strategic, and did not threaten the allied ports and supply lines. Stiff allied resistence, boosted by fresh American troops arriving on the Western Front, eventually halted the German attacks. The Allies then retook the offensive and through August and September 1918, counter attacked across the old battlefields and beyond.
The British Army during the First World War was the largest military force, that Britain had ever put into the field up to that point. Over the course of the war 5,399,563 men served with the BEF, the maximum strength being 2,046,901 men. On the Western Front, the BEF ended the war as the strongest fighting force, more experienced and bigger than the American Army and with better morale than the French Army.
The cost of victory was high. The official "final and corrected" casualty figures for the British Army, including the Territorial Force, were issued on 10 March 1921. The losses for the period between 4 August 1914, and 30 September 1919, included 573,507 "killed in action, died from wounds and died of other causes" and 254,176 missing (minus 154,308 released prisoners), for a net total of 673,375 dead and missing. Casualty figures also indicated that there were 1,643,469 wounded.
Photos: Courtesy of The Imperial War Museum Collection
1. Belgian civilians cheering a force of British marines on their arrival at Ostend in August 1914.
2. British troops resting in a Belgian village, 13 October 1914
3. Soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, Scots Guards in the hastilly constructed trenches near Zandvoorde, October 1914.
4. View of No Man's Land towards the German trenches, which ran along the line of trees; La Boutillerie, winter 1914-1915. 7th Division.
The Great War 1914- 18
The First World War was one of the most destructive wars in world history. It was centred in Europe and began on 28 July 1914, lasting until 11 November 1918. It soon became a global war, fought by 33 countries, across three continents and across all seas. It was the first war to be fought in the air, to use tanks, U-Boats, aircraft and chemical gas on a mass scale. It involved over 70 million combatants, and cost the lives of more than 9 million troops and 7 million civilians. Another 21 million servicemen and countless civilians were also wounded. It transformed the nature of modern war, mass producing aircraft, rifles, machine guns, heavy artillery, bombs, bullets, and barb wire. It developed new deadly new weapons, like bombers, U Boats, Tanks, Mustard Gas and Flame throwers, to win the war. However, the opponents were evenly matched and there was tactical stalemate. Industrialised warfare could not break the deadlock, but only magnify the horrors of war. On average, over 6,000 soldiers died every day, for four and half years. The Fist World War would pave the way for major political changes, including revolutions in many of the nations involved and marked the beginning of our modern history.
The cause of the 'Great War' in 1914, was a simple problem of Germany, a relatively new country, wanting to expand its empire and economic influence, over much older powers, like, France, Russia and Britain. The term Empire is a historical anachronism today, but in 1914, the world was conrolled and dominated by European Imperial powers. Empire was seen as a legitimate instrument to improve 'civilisation'. Oversea territories and colonies were used as economic markets, to exploit raw materials, conrtol trade and boost national wealth and prestige. The British Empire in 1914, was the largest empire in world history. The Royal Navy ruled the seas, and Britain dominated world trade and controlled one quarter of the world's population. The Russian Empire was about three quarters the size of Britain's. French territory was about half the size and the German Empire was only 10% the size of the British Empire. To Germany, whose population increased by a million people a year, who produced more steel than all other major powers put together and exported 90% of the world's chemicals, this was a barrier to their economic expansion. Germany, frustrated by limited markets and dominated by a militaristic ruling class, increased its army and navy, in preparation to expand its empire. In a tangle of alliances, stretching back decades, a climate of agressive rivaly and tension between countries, burst into war.
The war drew in all the world's economic Great Powers, assembled in two opposing alliances: the Allies (based on the Triple Ententes of Britain, France and the Russian Empire, against the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary. Although Italy had also been a member of the Triple Alliance alongside Germany and Austria-Hungary, it did not join the Central Powers, as Austria-Hungary had taken the offensive against the terms of the alliance. These alliances were reorganised and expanded as more nations entered the war: Italy, Japan and the United States joined the Allies, and the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria, joined the Central Powers. More than 33 countries, or 1.5 billion people, were formally involved in the Great war, which represented 80% of the world's population. Only a dozen or so countries managed to remain neutral.
The trigger for war was the 28 June 1914 assasination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, by Yugoslav nationalist, Gavrilo Princip, in Sarajevo. This set off a diplomatic crises, when Austria-Hungary delivered an ultimatum to Serbia, and entangled international alliances formed over the previous decades, were invoked. Within 37 days, the major powers were at war and the conflict soon spread around the world.
On 28 July, the Austro-Hungarians, with German support, declared war on Serbia and subsequently invaded. As Russia mobilised in support of Serbia, Germany invaded neutral Belgium and Luxembourg before moving towards France, leading Britain to declare war on Germany. After the German attack on Paris was halted, what became known as the 'Western Front' settled into a war of attrition, with a trench line that would change little until 1917. Meanwhile, on the Eastern Front, the Russian army was successful against the Austro-Hungarians, but was stopped in its invasion of East Prussia by the Germans at Tannenberg. In November 1914, the Ottoman Empire joined the Central Powers, opening fronts in the Caucasus, Mesopotamia and the Sinai. Italy joined the Allies in 1915 and Bulgaria joined the Central Powers in the same year, while Romania joined the Allies in 1916, and the United States joined the Allies in 1917.
The Russian government collapsed in March 1917, and a later revolution in November, forced Russia to abandon the war, via the Treaty of Brest Litovsk. This was a massive German victory, only nullified by the 1918 victories of the Western allies. After a stunning German offensive along the Western Front, in March 1918, the Allies rallied and drove back the Germans in a series of successful offensives. On 4th November 1918, the exhausted Austro-Hungarian empire agreed to an armistice. Germany, facing starvation and problems with internal revolutionaries at home, also agreed to an armistice on 11 November 1918. Thus the First World War suddenly stopped, ending in a strange anti climax, with Germany having conquered vast territories in Russia, collapsing, without being either invaded or defeated.
By the end of 1918, the German Empire, Russian Empire, Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire had ceased to exist. National borders were redrawn, with several independent nations restored or created, and Germany's colonies were shared out among the winners. The war had cost over $3.5 Trillion dollars. During the Paris Peace conference of 1919, the ‘Big Four’ (Britain, France, the United States and Italy) imposed a series of treaties on their enemies. Germany was made to accept full responsibility for starting the war and then repay the costs of the war to the Allies, through severe reparations which crippled the German economy. In addition, the German Rhineland was de-militarised and the Germany army restrictied to only 100,000 men with no tanks, aircraft, U-Boats or modern weapons. Germany re-unification with Austria was outlawed to prevent this powerful threat ever re-surfacing again. German territories were given away and millions of German speaking people were to become minorities, in the newly formed nations of Poland and Czechoslovakia. These sanctions would humiliate Germany, sowing the seeds of the next World War, twenty years later. The 'League of Nations' was formed with the aim of preventing another 'Great War', but none of the leading powers wanted another war to enforce the sanctions. The 'League', was undermined by weakened states, economic depression, renewed European nationalism, and the German feeling of humiliation contributing to the rise of Nazis. These conditions eventually contributed to World War II. The First World War left an enduring legacy which affects the World today. It included the end of empires and the decline of aristocracy; the development of new nations and the desire for self determination, the need for a global system of international co-operation, such as the 'League of Nations' and the 'United Nations'. It led to new political ideas, such as Communism, Fascism, Pacifism, Social Democracy and votes for women. It taught the world about chemical warfare, shell shock, conscription, and led to medical advances, like blood transfusions and plastic surgery. It developed filmed propaganda, war technology and planned economies. It created the 'Middle East', the growth of Arab nationalism, Zionist ambition and the emergence of modern Turkey.
The following timeline highlights the build up to the Great War and some key events between 1914-1918.
29 year old Wilhelm II, becomes ruler Kaiser Willhelm II of Germany, after his father's untimely death.
* April 8 1904 - Great Britain and France sign the 'Entente Cordiale' - increases co-operation between these two powers.
* 1904-06 - Russio-Japanese war results in a disastrous defeat for Russia and major civil rest back home.
* 1906 - Britain builds the first 'Dreadnought' class battleship. Tensions with Germany increase.
June 28 - Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austria-Hungarian throne and his wife, Sophie are assissinated by Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip while the couple were visiting Sarajevo.
- July 28 - Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia.
- August 1 - Germany declares war on Russia.
- August 3 - Germany declares war on France. They plan to knock France out of the war by capturing Paris within the first 42 days.
- August 4 - Great Britain declares war on Germany, after Germany invades Belgium.
- August 6 - Austria-Hungary declares war on Russia and Serbia declares war on Germany.
- August 26 - The Battle of Tannenberg begins. Germany halts the Russian advance.
- August 19 - United States President, Woodrow Wilson, states that America will remain neutral.
- September 5 - The First Battle of Marne. German advance blocked. Trench warfare begins as soldiers on both sides dig in.
- October 19 - The First Battle of Ypres begins. The 'Race to the Sea' and outflanking the enemy.
- November 3 - The United Kingdom announces that the North Sea is a military area, effectively creating a blockade of goods into Germany.
- 28 December 24 The unofficial Christmas Truce is declared.
- January 19 - The First Air raids begin - two Zeppelins bomb Great Yarmouth, Kings Lyn and Sherringham.
- February 4 - Germany declares a "war zone" around Great Britain, blockading Britain from all shipping.
- February 19 - The Dardanelles Campaign begins. The Allies attempt to take the narrow waterway to the Black Sea to relieve Russia.
- March 10 - The Battle of Neuve Chapelle begins. Britain's first planned Offensive, using Indian troops runs out of ammunition.
- April 22 - The Second Battle of Ypres begins. First British mines explode under Hill 60. Germans use poison gas for the first time.
- April 25 - The Gallipoli Campaign begins. Fierce Turkish resistence. The birth of Australia and New Zealand as independent nations
- May 7 - The British ocean liner by German U-boat, U-20. German Submarine attacks are restricted.
- July 30 - Hooge Battle. Germans use flame throwers for the first time against British trenches.
- September 5 - Tsar Nicholas II takes personal control over Russia's armies.
- September 25 - The Battle of Loos. British use poison gas for first time.
- December 28 - The evacuation of Gallipoli begins after no gains and 200,000 Allied causalities.
- February 21 - The Battle of Verdun begins. 11 months of Attrition, Verdun was the longest and bloodiest battle of World War I.
- April 24 - The Dublin East Rising. The Outbreak of Rebellion in Ireland.
- May 31 - The Battle of Jutland, the major naval battle of the war, begins.
- July 1 - The Battle of the Somme begins. 20,000 British troops die on the first day and suffers on average 3,000 casualties every day. Over a million men will become casualties. Tanks will be used for the first time.
- January 19 - Germany sends the secret Zimmerman Telegram to Mexico in an effort to entice Mexico to join the war. The British intercept and decipher the coded message.
- February 1 - Germans resume unrestricted submarine warfare. Allied shipping losses peak in April.
- March 15 - Russian Tsar Nicholas II abdicates.
- April 6 - The United States declares war on Germany.
- June 7 - Battle of Messines begins. The British expode 19 mines under the German positions, killing 10,000 Germans instantly. It relieves pressure on France, after their disastrous offensive, at Chemin des Dames.
- July 31 - The Battle of Passchendaele (Third Battle of Ypres) begins: Mud, blood and 245,000 British casualties. It distracts the Germans while the French army recovers from mutiny.
- October 24 - The Battle of Corporetto. The first use of German 'Storm troopers'. The Italian army collapses.
- November 7 - The Bolsheviks successfully overthrow the Russian government during the 1917 Russian Revolution.
- December 17 - The armistice between the Bosheviks and Central Powers begins. Two million German troops are transferred to the Western front.
- January 8 - U.S. President Woodrow Wilson issues his Fourteen Points to peace.
- January - An Influenza pandemic begins. In two years, 500 million people are infected and 100 million people will die of the 'flu'.
- March 3 - Russia signs the Treaty of Brest Litovsk, which is a peace treaty between Russia and the Central Powers.
- March 21 - Germany launches the Spring Offensive: A last gamble to break the deadlock on the Western Front.
- April 21 - German flying ace Baron Manfred von Richthofen (known as the Red Baron), is shot down.
- July 15 - The Second Battle of the Marne begins. The last German Offensive fails.
- July 17 - Tsar Nicholas II and his family are executed by the Bolsheviks. The Russian Imperial dynasty ends.
- August 8 - The Allies Advance to victory. One Hundred days of Offensives.
- September 12 - Battle of St Mihiel. American troops attack for the first time.
- November 9 - German Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicates and flees to Holland.
- November 11 - Germany signs the armistice at Compiegne, France. Fighting ends on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
- June 28 -The Treaty of Versailles. Germany is disarmed, stripped of colonies and forced to pay reparations.
Photos from the Imperial War Museum Collection:
A stonemason engraving a headstone destined for the grave of a Canadian casualty of the First World War: the bodies of Australian troops, each with its simple wooden cross, are gathered for burial, Guillemont Farm, 3 October 1918; Women's Auxiliary Army Corp attends a grave at Abbeyville, 9/02/1918.
The Pal Battalions
On 6 August, Parliament sanctioned an increase in Army strength of 500,000 men; day's later Lord Kitchener, Minister of War, issued his first call to arms. This was for 100,000 volunteers, aged between 19 and 30, at least 1.6m (5'3") tall and with a chest size greater than 86cm (34 inches).
Recruitment was boosted further by the decision to form the units that became known as Pals Battalions. General Henry Rawlinson initially suggested that men would be more willing to join up if they could serve with people they already knew. Lord Derby was the first to test the idea when he announced in late August that he would try to raise a battalion in Liverpool, comprised solely of local men. Within days, Liverpool had enlisted enough men to form four battalions, each a 1,000 strong.
'Pals Battalions' proved popular elsewhere. Stockbrokers, Miners, Railway workers, sportsmen and artists all formed their own battalions. In the first two years of the war, over 3 million men in the UK joined and from the 1,000 new battalions created, over two thirds of the men were locally raised Pal battalions. The 1916 Military Service Act would conscript a further 3.5 million over the next two years.
More than 50 Cities and towns raised their own 'Pal Battalions'. Hull with a relatively small population raised four Pal battalions, the same as Liverpool, and more than Birmingham and Glasgow which had three. Manchester had seven. Newcastle had two, but had an additional four called the Tyneside Scottish Brigade and another four called the Tyneside Irish Brigade. The bonds of friendship were a major strength in building an effective fighting unit. However, the tragic consequences of this were that heavy casualties could decimate all of the men from the same street, team, or workplace.
Recruitment Scenes 1914 -1918. Photos courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.
The Western Front
The German invasion in 1914, occupied 90% of Belgium, and 10 French regions. The resulting German-occupied territory included 64% of France's pig iron production, 24% of its steel manufacturing, and 40% of France's total coal mining capapcity. This dealt a serious, but not crippling setback to French industry.
The 'Western Front' marked the furthest German advances. It was a 400 mile battle line, extending from the North Sea coast at Nieuwpoort, to the Swiss border. Typically, the front line consisted of three individual trench lines about 100 meters apart, protected by belts of barb wire up, to 20 meters deep, and with positions for machine guns. Villages would be converted into fortresses and the cellars of houses fortified. In due course, a second defensive line, similar to the first, was dug three or four miles back, out of artillery range, so that a single attack could not break right through the defences.The German for most part occupied higher ground. Initially, the BEF held 20 miles of this 400 mile front in 1914, and by 1918 controlled over 120 miles of the Western Front. The Western Front was the principal and vital theatre of war, along which millions of men fought and died. Against the German Army fought the allied armies of the British Commonwealth, France, Belgium and later the United States.
The war on the Western Front can be thought of as being in three phases:
1) a two month war of movement in 1914, as Germany attempted to capture France within the first 42 days and the Allies sought to halt it;
2) three and half years of costly siege warfare, as the entrenched lines proved impossible to crack (late 1914 to mid 1918), and finally,
3) a return to mobile warfare, when a series of German offensives, starting on the 21st March 1918, pushed back the British lines, but failed to break through. On the 16th July 1918, the Allies launched a counter offensive. Boosted by newly arrived American reinforcements, the Allies over the next 100 days recaptured all the lost gound.
The Western Front is often remembered for a 'Christmas Truce', and a football match, between opposing sides on Christmas Day 1914. It is estimated that some 30,000 troops, along some parts of the front line, met in 'No Mans' Land, to shake hands and exchange Christmas gifts. It was also an opportunity to bury the dead and spy on each other's defences. There is some evidence that the British started some impromptu football matches, but the Germans mostly looked on, rather than took part. Generals on both sides soon halted this fratenisation, by ordering the shelling of enemy positions. There were no further 'Christmas Truces', on the Western Front, after 1914. More accurately, the Western Front proved a brutal battlefield, with attritional warfare and great slaughter over four years. It left 7.5 million acres of wasteland, polluted by chemical warfare, unexploded shells and unburied dead and thousands of villages and town oblierated.
Stalemate and the use of Terror Weapons 1915-17
It was on the Western Front, that many modern weapons of mass destruction, were used for the first time.
* On the 22nd April 1915, the Germans first used poisonous gas against French and Canadian troops. They released 168,000 tonnes of chlorine gas, along a 4 mile front, killing 5,000 men and wounding another 5,000. By the end of the war all sides were using poison gas. In fact, some 30 types of poisonous gas were developed throughout the War, and some 119,000 tons of gas were used. In total, 1,200,000 soldiers on both sides were gassed, of which 91,198 died horrible deaths.
* On the 30th July 1915, the Germans first used 'Flame Throwers'. Their flame throwers could fire jets of flame as far as 130 feet (40 m). These were deployed against British trenches at Hooge, where the lines were just 4.5 metres. The surprise attack at 3.15am, proved terrifying to the British. However, although initially pushed back, the line was later stabilised that night by the 8th Rifle Brigade and 7th Bn KRRC. In two days of severe fighting the British lost 31 officers and 751 other ranks.
* On 15th September 1916, Britain launched the first ever tank attack at Flers. While slow, prone to break down and used in limited numbers, tanks initially shocked the German and penetrated heavy defences.
* Tunnelling under the enemy defences was another extensively used weapon on the Western Front. At Messines Ridge, the Allies dug some 8,000 metres of tunnels. On the 7th June 1917, under a 9 mile ridge of villages, the British detonated 19 underground mines simultaneously, killing some 10,000 Germans instantly.
* The Western Front also saw the first mass use of machine guns, artillery duels and air warfare. The French 75mm cannon, was named by the Germans, as the 'Devil Gun', which could fire 15 shells a minute, accurately on a target, over 4 miles away.
The Germans developed 'Big Bertha', a 48-ton howitzer. It was named after the wife of its designer Gustav Krupp.
It could fire a 2,050-lb shell a distance of 9.3 miles. It took a crew of 200 men six hours or more to assemble. Germany had 13 of these huge guns or “wonder weapons.” An arms race developed betrween all sides to deploy these weapons more destructively. Over a billion shells were fired on the Western front - the equivilent of a tonne of explosives fired for every square meter of land. Killing increased on an industrial scale. The Battle of Verdun saw combined losses of 700,000 men, the Battle of the Somme caused another million casualties and the Passchendaele offensive another 600,000 casualties. Despite successes in Italy, it was the mounting casualties along the Western Front, that forced Germany and its allies to sue for peace.
The return to mobile warfare 1918
To break the stalemate on the Western Front, Germany boyed by reinforcements from the Russian front, launched four offensives in 1918. These offensives were codenamed Michael, Georgette, Gneisenau and Blücher-Yorck). While initilly successfull, these Offensives were being steadily undermined by discontent at home. Germany, and Austro-Hungary were facing bankruptcy and famine. Bulgaria, a key German ally wanted peace. Civilians on the axis home front were becoming frustrated, war weary and hungry. They wanted change, peace and democracy. In January 1918, mass strikes in Berlin and elsewhere, called openly for the Kaiser's abdication. These strikes were ruthlessly suppressed by Ludendorff, who arrested 3,000 strikers and sent them to the front. This only served to spread pessimism and revolution to German troops on the battlefield. While the German Offensives since March 1918 had captured vast territory, the land was strategically of little value and had cost Germany 785,000 dead. Advancing Germans were becoming difficult to supply with food and weapons across war torn battlefields. Many German soldiers became tired and desperate, surrendering in vast numbers. Some 386,000 demoralised German troops surrendered on the Western Front in the last three months of the war. Germany could have used its Spring Offensives as an opportunity to sue for a favourable armistice, or retreat to more fortified defences to give its army a rest. However, Germany was effectively controlled by a military dictatorship which insisted on total victory. While the Germans recovered in places and often fought stubbornly , the Allies, strengthened by American troops, and unified under the sole leadership of Marshall Foche, were developing new tactics and new weapons. Over the last 100 days, the Allies, launched a series of counter attacks all across the Western Front. To their own surprise, they pushed the Germans back, very slowly and very bloodily, to the Belgian border. While the Allies were grinding the Germans down through their superior factories, technology, manpower and command, they still lacked the logistical capacity and political will to defeat the Germans on German soil. All sides were by now becoming exhausted and reluctant to waste further lives. The Allies were planning another Offensive in 1919, when an Armistice was called on the 11th November 1918. It was thought at the time that this was just a pause in the war, but it turned out to be the end of the First World War on the Western Front.
The 1914-18 War, had cost nearly 4 million Allied casualties and over 3.5 million German casualties on the Western Front alone. The worn out Central powers sued for peace. The war on the Western Front, officially ended at 11am, on the 11th November, 1918.
The Western Front along 250 miles and 25-30 miles wide had been reduced to a wasteland. 1,659 towns and communes had been blotted out, 2,363 others were wrecked, and 630,000 houses were destroyed or seriously damaged. So many mines were ruined, that the output of coal was reduced by a half, 21,000 factories were gutted, and the great manufacturing centres at Lille, and the Longwy district, were systematically despoiled of machinery vital to their prosperity. Deaths of civillians by artllery in the battle zone, or in the back areas by areoplanes were frequent. Deaths continue today, due to unexploded munitions in the Western front area.
The Allies had not so much won the war, but had refused to lose. The Germans still held much of their initial territory and marched home in good order, with their weapons. German soldiers were welcomed home as an undefeated army. For many, their war would continue, as German troops were used to keep order and prevent revolution. Crippled by debts, the Allies forced Germany to sign the Treaty of Versailles, on 28 June 1919. It made Germany admit responsiblity for the war and pay for all costs incurred. This humiliation, rekindled Germany's desire for revenge and twenty years later, Germany would overun Europe again in 1939.
Photo: Troops of the German the 150th Regiment (37th Infantry Division) which had fought on the Eastern Front, marching home through Berlin. The placard shows the battles in which they fought.
Trench Life on the Western Front - Trenches could be infested with rats, lice and frogs!
Living in Dugouts RAMC Officer of the 12th EYR bandaging a wounded man-Roclincourt, 9 January 1918.
A soldier of the 12th Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment in 'Brandy Trench' near Roclincourt, 9th January 1918. Men of the 12th Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment using a perisope in a trench in the Arleux sector, 9 January 1918.
Officers of the 12th Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment (92nd Brigade, 31st Division) in their mess dug-out, 30 feet underground. Arleux sector, near Roclincourt, 9 January 1918.
Major Battles on the Western Front
The Battle of Mons - 23 August 1914
The Battle of Mons was the first major action of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in the First World War. At Mons, the British Army which numbered 80,000, attempted to hold the line of the Mons–Condé Canal against the advancing German 1st Army. They were outnumbered by the Germans 3:1. Although the British fought well and inflicted disproportionate casualties on the numerically superior Germans, they were eventually forced to retreat. This was due both to the greater strength of the Germans and the sudden retreat of the French Fifth Army, which exposed the British right flank. Though initially planned as a simple tactical withdrawal and executed in good order, the British retreat from Mons lasted for two weeks and covered over 250 miles (400km). The British were closely pursued by the Germans throughout and fought several rearguard actions, including the Battle of Le Cateau on 26 August, the Étreux rearguard action on 27 August and the Action at Néry on 1 September. It took the BEF to the outskirts of Paris before it counter-attacked in concert with the French, at the Battle of the Marne. Both sides had success at the Battle of Mons: the British had been outnumbered by about 3:1 but managed to withstand the German 1st Army for 48 hours, inflict more casualties on the Germans and then retire in good order. At Mons the British suffered 1,638 Casualties. The Germans lost between 2,500 - 5000 men
By 22 September 1914, following the First Battle of the Marne (6–12 September 1914) and the First Battle of the Aisne (12–21 September 1914), the French and German armies began fighting a series of battles side-stepping one another through northern France in an attempt to outflank the other. These outflanking manoeuvres would take them in a north-westerly direction from the Aisne region towards the French coast. This period of fighting became known as “The Race to the Sea”.
The Battle of Loos - 25 September – 8 October 1915
The Battle of Loos was the biggest British attack of 1915, the first time that the British used poison gas and the first mass engagement of New Army units. The French and British tried to break through the German defences in Artois and Champagne and restore a war of movement. In many places British artillery had failed to cut the German wire in advance of the attack. Advancing over open fields, within range of German machine guns and artillery, British losses were devastating. Twelve attacking battalions suffered 8,000 casualties out of 10,000 men in four hours. The British were able to break through the weaker German defences and capture the town of Loos-en-Gohelle, mainly due to numerical superiority. Supply and communications problems, combined with the late arrival of reserves, meant that the breakthrough could not be exploited. British casualties at Loos were nearly 60,000 about twice as high as German losses. The Loos Memorial commemorates over 20,000 soldiers of Britain and the Commonwealth who fell in the battle and have no known grave.
The Battles for Ypres - 1914-1918:
Ypres was one of the few parts of Belgium not ooccupied by the Germans. It bacame a symbol of Belgium resistance. It was also a major strategic position during the First World War because it stood in the way of Germany's planned sweep across the rest of Belgium and into France from the north (the Schlieffen Plan). The neutrality of Belgium was guaranteed by Britain; Germany's invasion of Belgium brought the British Empire into the war. The German army surrounded the city on three sides, bombarding it throughout much of the war. To counterattack, British, French, and allied forces made costly advances from the Ypres Salient into the German lines on the surrounding hills. Ypres was one of the sites that hosted an unofficial Christmas Truce in 1914 between German and British soldiers. Men from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, India South Africa and other commonwealth countries all fought at Ypres, alongside men from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales to preserve Ypres from capture.
The land surrounding Ypres to the north is flat and canals and rivers link it to the coast. Ypres was the major centre in this part of Flanders. Control of the town gave control of the surrounding countryside and all the major roads converged on the town. To the south of the town the land rises to about 500 feet (the Mesen Ridge) which would give a significant height advantage to whichever side controlled this ridge of high land.
First Battle of Ypres (19 October to 22 November 1914), the Allies captured the town from the Germans. The first days of November directly affected the town. Each day Ypres was shelled and civilian casualties were high. This tactic set the scene for what Ypres was to suffer for several more years. By the winter, the Germans had not taken Ypres and heavy rain meant that any movement was impossible as the roads turned to mud. The first battle at Ypres limped to a halt.
Second Battle of Ypres (22 April 1915– 25 May 1915)
The battle consisted of six engagements:
- Battle of Gravenstafel: Thursday 22 April – Friday 23 April 1915
- Battle of St. Julien: Saturday 24 April – 4 May
- Battle of Frezenberg: 8–13 May
- Battle of Bellewaarde: 24–25 May
- Battle of Hooge: 30–31 July 1915 (first German use of flamethrowers)
- Second Attack on Bellewaarde 25 September
Once the weather had settled, the Germans prepared for a new attack. They used deadly chlorine gas against defending French troops. Having never experienced this before, terrified French soldiers fled. The Gas had worked as it had got them to leave their positions. The situation was saved by Canadian troops who used handkerchiefs soaked in urine as gas masks and launched a counter-attack on the Germans. It was successful and the Germans lost the gains they had made.
Third Battle of Ypres (31 July to 6 November 1917, also known as the Battle of Passchendaele)
British and Commonwealth forces were pursuing an ambitious goal: to break through the German lines to reach the Belgian coast and neutralise the U-boats that threatened British supply lines. However, the campaign coincided with the wettest summer for a century, turning the battlefield into a sea of mud.
More VCs were won on the 31st July 1917, the first day of the Battle of Passchendaele than on any other single day of battle in the First World War, and 61 VCs were awarded during the campaign as a whole.
The Battle of the Somme (1 July and 18 November 1916)
To relieve pressure on the French at Verdun, and to prevent the Germans transferring troops to the Italian or Russian fronts, a large-scale Allied offensive, was launched on 1 July 1916, against the German Front Line, along the Somme River. The British Army attacked north of the river, the French Army attacked south of the river. The battle is usually regarded in three phases. The first, from the 1st-17th July, when a footing was gained on the hill crest between Deville Wood and Bazentine-le-Petit, the second, from the 17th July to the first week of September, when violent counter attacks were beaten back, and the British position on the highland was made good, and the third phase, from September, to November, when an advance was made down the northern and eastern slopes to consoldiate the flanks. The battles lasted for a gruelling four months with many thousands of casualties on both sides of the wire. The first day on the Somme (1st July) saw a serious defeat for the German Second Army, which was forced out of its first position by the French Sixth Army, from Foucaucourt-en-Santerre, south of the Somme to Maricourt, on the north bank and by the Fourth Army from Maricourt to the vicinity of the Albert–Bapaume road. The British attack along the front, between the Albert–Bapaume road and Gommecourt, fared much worse. While the British fired over a million shells at the German lines a week before the attack, some 35% of munitions were defective and of the wrong type. Many shells failed to explode. They did not cut the german wire or penetrate the deep German bunkers under ground. Recently found German archives also reveal that the Germans had learnt from captured prisoners and listening posts, when, and where the attack would start, and in many cases, which troops would confront them on the opening day. When the whistles blew at 7.30am on the 1st July 1916, 100,000 British troops emerged from their trenches and walked slowly towards the German line. They confidently believed that nothing could have survived the previous week's bombardment. Counting from the right, the 30th, 18th and 7th Divisons were successful at Montauban and Mametz, a distance of about 5 miles, and the 21st, 34th and 8th, were partially successful at Fricourt, La Boisselle, and Ovillers. On the left, the 32nd and 36th Divisions, failed near Thiepval, the 29th and 4th, near Beaumont Hammel, the 31st at Serre, and the 56th and 46th near Gommercourt
The cause of the failure was that the Germans were expecting the attack, and had prepared their defences and brough up extra guns. They had also surveyed and defended the battlefield for the last two years. Their artillery and machine guns covered all the battlefield and were trained to follow moving targets, within range. The British troops at the Somme, facing them, comprized a mixture of the remains of the pre-war regular army, the Territorial Force; and mostly Kitchener's Army, a force of volunteer recruits including many Pals' Battalions, recruited from the same places and occupations. The "Pals", were probably Britains fittest, brightest and most enthusiastic soldiers, but they were very inexperienced and tactically naive. Britain's 'Pal' battalions which had taken two years to train, were decimated in the first 10 minutes of battle. Many troops failed to even reach their own front line, let alone the Germans and where there were successes, they were obtained at enormous cost. British losses on the first day, were the worst in the history of the British army, with 57,470 British casualties,19,240 of whom were killed.
The Somme battle is notable for the importance of air power and the first use of the tank. At the end of the battle, British and French forces had penetrated 10 km (6 miles) into German-occupied territory, taking more ground than in any of their offensives since the Battle of the Marne in 1914. The Anglo-French armies failed to capture Péronne and halted 5 km (3 miles) from Bapaume, where the German armies maintained their positions over the winter. British attacks in the Ancre valley resumed in January 1917 and forced the Germans into local withdrawals to reserve lines in February, before the scheduled retirement to he Siegfriedstellung (Hindenburg Line) began in March. The Battle of the Somme was one of the costliest battles of World War I. The original Allied estimate of casualties on the Somme, made at the Chantilly Conference on 15 November 1916, was 485,000 British and French casualties and 630,000 German. While Allied casualties were appalling, a school of thought has emerged that the battle seriously drained German resources impeding their chance of final victory. The destruction of German units in battle was made worse by lack of rest. British and French aircraft and long-range guns reached well behind the front-line, where trench-digging and other work meant that troops returned to the line exhausted. As well as capturing 38,000 prisoners, the British army had gained much needed battle experience and the confidence of driving the Germanss from strong, fortified positions and holding these gains, against frequent counter attacks.
The Somme Battle: First phase: 1st –17th July 1916