First World War

First day in the trenches

Overview of new technology in the First World War

An overview of how the new technology used at the start of World War 1 changed the nature of warfare, and how digging trenches led to stalemate.

Teacher Objectivity in WW1

Objectivity in the classroom, 1914. Is this #WW1 clipping still relevant?

This American news clipping was published in November 1914. Quoting from a Department of Education circular, it says:

One of the most vital problems confronting school administrators at this time is the educational problem of how to teach about the current European war and the teacher’s attitude in the discussions in respect to this conflict.

Teachers should not express any personal opinions in regard to the war that will give a reason for resentment from the parents or offend the sensibilities of the children.

Below the fifth grade no time at all should be devoted to this war subject. Beginning with the fifth grade Current Events should be used in the class discussions and as a guide in the map study of the war zone.

Maintaining objectivity in the classroom, 1914 style. Circular from #WW1 arguably still relevant

Second Battle of Ypres

First large-scale gas attack at the Second Battle of Ypres, 1915

A description of the first large-scale use of poison gas in WW1 that marked the start of the Second Battle of Ypres.

Why Italy joined WW1 on the side of the Triple Entente

On the 23rd May 1915, Italy entered the First World War on the side of the Triple Entente and declared war on Austria-Hungary.

Italy was actually Austria-Hungary’s ally under the terms of the Triple Alliance, but the Italian government had initially opted for neutrality before being persuaded to join with its theoretical opposition.  Under the terms of the Triple Alliance, Italy was well within its rights not to provide military assistance to Germany and Austria-Hungary since the treaty was entirely defensive.  Since Austria-Hungary had instigated hostilities against Serbia, Italy argued that the alliance was void.

Italy therefore remained neutral for the first nine months of the war.  However, behind the scenes Prime Minister Antonio Salandra and his minister of Foreign Affairs, Sidney Sonnino, were investigating which side would be the best to join.  In a secret agreement signed on 26th April in London, Italy agreed to leave the Triple Alliance, join the Triple Entente, and declare war on Austria-Hungary and Germany.  Assuming they won, Italy would in return receive large areas of territory from the Central Powers such as Italian-populated areas of Austria-Hungary and in the region of the Adriatic Sea.

Italy duly entered the war against Austria-Hungary on 23rd May 1915.  Despite superior numbers, the Italians struggled against Austria-Hungarians.  However, they did emerge victorious and so Premier Vittorio Emanuele Orlando went as the Italian representative to the Paris Peace Conference.  However, the offers of land were not as much as Italy had hoped for and so he left the Conference in a boycott.

First aid and hygiene in the trenches of the First World War

John McCrae

‘In Flanders Fields’ – the historical background to the poem

On 3 May 1915, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae wrote the war poem ‘In Flanders Fields’, which inspired the symbol of the poppy to commemorate members of the military killed in war.

McCrae had published his first poems while studying medicine at the University of Toronto, after which he served in the Canadian Field Artillery during the Boer War. Returning to Canada after the war, he embarked on a successful career as a pathologist and was made a member of the Royal College of Physicians prior to the outbreak of the First World War.

McCrae was appointed to the 1st Brigade CFA (Canadian Field Artillery) where he assumed the position of Medical Officer and Major. While serving in Belgium he fought at the Second Battle of Ypres that began on 22 April 1915, an experience he described in a letter to his mother as a ‘nightmare’. During this battle his close friend Alexis Helmer was killed, and McCrae himself performed the burial service on 2 May.

The next day, while apparently sitting in the back of an ambulance, McCrae composed ‘In Flanders Fields’. Cyril Allinson, a Sergeant Major in McCrae’s unit, later recounted watching McCrae write the poem. He was apparently unhappy with the final piece and threw it away, but it was retrieved by another member of the unit.

McCrae edited the poem and submitted it to The Spectator for publication, but following that paper’s rejection succeeded in getting it published in Punch on 8 December 1915. It was met with universal acclaim at the time, and its imagery of red poppies led to the flower’s associated with remembrance in the years following the war.

McCrae continued to serve in the army, but died of a pneumonia-related illness on 28 January 1918. He is buried in France.

The soldiers’ experience of World War 1

An excellent documentary aimed at students aged 11-16 looking at key events of WW1 including the shift to ‘world war’, the development and experience of trench warfare, and the role of Douglas Haig.

PART 1

PART 2

Conditions for generals in WW1

Sarcastic account of conditions for generals in WW1 by a dispatch rider

This newspaper cutting from The Times on 20th November 1914 can be useful source for revealing attitudes of some regular soldiers towards their commanding officers. While not directly critical, the writer’s final sentence contains some evident sarcasm!

A Cambridge undergraduate, who is acting as a motorcycle dispatch-rider, sends home the following account of his experiences after being wounded:-

I was pushing off the next field, when four big shrapnel shells burst near by, searching for a battery, but all they found was my left foot, which got in the way of a piece. I was very annoyed about it for the moment, but by the time I had hobbled a mile and a half, and found the destination of the message I carried, I was resigned to my fate. A pal of mine cut my boot off and put a field dressing round my foot, and the kind-hearted old general let his car carry me off to a field ambulance. It’s rotten for generals out there, you know; they get worried stiff – poor old chaps, and get loads and loads of responsibility and anxiety and have to sit about all day in cold, damp ditches and splinter-proof shelters, and fume and scheme, and feed on bread and chicken and ham paste and sardines.

Download a copy of the original cutting here.

The Christmas Truce including an interview with a survivor