25 Favorite Photographs of Grand Duchess Olga {1/25}

Smiling Olga with one of her best friends and lady-in-waiting, Margarita “Rita” Sergeevna Khitrovo, taken during the First World War. Like Olga, Rita was born in 1895 and served as a Red Cross nurse during the war. Rita was a graduate of the Smolny Institute, which was famous for being the first educational establishment for women and continued to function under the personal patronage of the Russian Empress until just before the 1917 revolution. After the war, Rita was accused of plotting a monarchist coup but was released for lack of evidence. She emigrated, eventually settling in the United States, and died in 1952.

A British soldier rides a motorbike with a basket of pigeons on his back, on his way to delivering them to the frontline on the Western Front in 1916

Thomas Hardy: “The Pity of It”

March 31 1915, London—Published today in the Fortnightly Review was a new poem by Thomas Hardy. Set in his usual (fictional) area of Wessex, it bemoans the unnecessary war between the Anglo-Saxons and their German kin, damning those who caused it (presumably, to the English reader, the Kaiser). The poem is reproduced below.

I walked in loamy Wessex lanes, afar
From rail-track and from highway, and I heard
In field and farmstead many an ancient word
Of local lineage like ‘Thu bist,’ ‘Er war,’ 

'Ich woll', 'Er sholl', and by-talk similar,
Nigh as they speak who in this month’s moon gird
At England’s very loins, thereunto spurred
By gangs whose glory threats and slaughters are.

Then seemed a Heart crying: ‘Whosoever they be
At root and bottom of this, who flung this flame
Between kin folk kin tongued even as are we,

'Sinister, ugly, lurid, be their fame;
May their familiars grow to shun their name,
And their brood perish everlastingly.’

French Reserves from the USA, resting during the Battle of the Marne, September 1914.

The outbreak of the War was met with resounding support from most people of the participating major powers. So much so that many expatriates left their new homes to return to their mother country to fight. Men from the America’s returned to Europe to fight, mostly for Germany and France. In countries like Australia, New Zealand and South Africa many British citizens joined the armies of those nations as soon as their governments announced their intentions to dispatch expeditionary forces.

A pilot jumps from his burning plane. For many pilots the horror of being burned alive in a plane was their greatest fear. Some carried a side arm to finish themselves off. Many simply free-fell to their death.

None of the pilots on any of the sides wore parachutes. Parachutes had been invented, but the high commands of the belligerent nations believed that they would destroy the “fighting spirit” of pilots. Of course the high command never flew any planes!

French troops on the Somme Front, launching an attack on the Germans, ca. 1916.

Far from thick lines of men marching slowly across no-man’s land an attack on the Western Front from late 1916 onwards was a complex, organised and theoretically well planned affair. It usually consisted of a consecutive waves of attackers moving quickly towards enemy trenches whilst an artillery barrage forced their opponents into their dugouts for safety, thus emptying the front lines of trenches. The men moved in a dispersed line of men, often in small groups, using the cover afforded by shell holes and converging on points of resistance using tactics of fire and movement that are similar to those used today.

Like much of our modern view of the Great War, the actualities of trench warfare were much different, and much more complex than are usually thought.