Writing Research - World War One

World War I (WWI or WW1 or World War One), also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war centered in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918. More than 9 million combatants and 7 million civilians died as a result of the war, a casualty rate exacerbated by the belligerents’ technological and industrial sophistication, and tactical stalemate. It was one of the deadliest conflicts in history, paving the way for major political changes, including revolutions in many of the nations involved. [1]


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World War I was sometimes called “the war to end all wars.” But one hundred years after the fighting began, it’s become a war that’s often forgotten in American history, or viewed as just a prelude to WWII. In our new episode, we’ll be exploring how the conflict affected Americans far beyond the battlefields of Europe — from debates about the meaning of free speech, to the fight over how the war would be remembered.  Stay tuned.

WWI recruitment posters from the U.S., France, the U.K., and Germany.

Images via the Library of Congress WWI Posters collection.

I took one look at the place and thought what a bloody place to live. I took a second look at it and thought what a bloody place to fight.

Private Jim Cannon, of the 2nd Battalion, The Suffolk Regiment, on his first impressions of the small Belgian industrial town of Mons.  Dissected by the Mons-Condé canal and characterised by narrow cobble streets, mining pit-heads and tall slag heaps the town proved a difficult position to defend.  This would be the site of the British Army’s first engagement of the Great War

1914: Fight the Good Fight, A. Mallinson, (2013)

Western Front: The Battle of the Frontiers

The map above, drawn at West Point in 1950, shows the dispositions of the French, British, Belgian and German Armies on the 22nd August 1914.  It shows the French line of five field armies and independent regional forces arrayed between Mulhouse in Alsace to the south and Thuin, Belgium in the north.  A front of roughly 350 miles.  
To the left of the French line the British Expeditionary Force had advanced into Belgium on the 21st, following its concentration and had moved north to the mining town of Mons to take up a position on the extreme left flank of the French army.

German Invasion of Belgium (source)

The 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th French armies had followed France’s Plan XVII, the attack through German held Alsace-Lorraine and into Germany.  However this advance had been met by the 7th, 6th, 5th and 4th German armies who had for the most part, despite some successful French actions, held the French back.  To the north however, the main German thrust of the Schlieffen Plan had pushed south through Belgium destroying the Belgian defensive positions at Liege and surrounding the National Redoubt at Antwerp.   The Belgian army had continually fallen back in the face of the German First and Second Armies.  By the 20th the French Fifth Army had advanced into southern Belgium to support the French advance in the Ardennes region however, the Fifth Army reported meeting heavy German concentrations and was forced back after the Battle of Charleroi on the 21st.  At the same time the French Third and Fourth Armies’ advance into the Ardennes was also thrown back.    

In Lorraine the French Second and Third Armies fought hard in the face of the German Sixth and Seventh Armies which had dug in, while they made some gains casualties in the face of strong defensive positions the effective German artillery fire forced them to fall back when the Germans counter attacked on the 20th.

In the south the First French Army and Army of Alsace made some gains in Alsace capturing Mulhouse on the 16th, however with the defeats of the French armies further north the French were forced to abandon Mulhouse on the 26th.

Maps showing some of the key engagements of the Battle of the Frontiers (source)

On the far left of the Allied line the British Expeditionary Force arrived in Mons on the 22nd, and began to dig in but expected to advance in support of the French Fifth Army’s counter attack following the Battle of Charleroi.  However, the following day they were attacked by the German First Army which was seeking to wheel around the Fifth Army’s flank.  

By late August 1914, the French advance in line with Plan XVII had been thrown into disarray, and the German attack through Belgium had pushed back almost all before it.    The Great Retreat would see the French and British Armies pushed back in and ever decreasing L-shape as the Allied line contracted towards Paris, it would not be until the the French Army’s counter attack, Battle of the Marne, at the beginning of September that the situation would be stabilised.

Image Source

The Illustrated "All Quiet on the Western Front"

"Killing each separate louse is a tedious business when a man has hundreds. The little beasts are hard and the everlasting cracking with one’s fingernails very soon becomes wearisome. So Tjaden  has rigged up the lid of a boot-polish tin with a piece of wire over the lighted stump of a candle. The lice are simply thrown into this little pan. Crack! They are done for.
"We sit around with our shirts on our knees, our bodies naked to the warm air and our hands at work. Haie has a particularly fine brand of louse: they have a red cross on their heads. He suggests that he brought them back with him from the hospital at Thourhout, where they attended personally on a surgeon-general. He says he means to use the fat that slowly accumulates in the tin-lid for polishing his boots, and roars with laughter for half an hour at his own joke."
(pages 48-49)


A German soldier helps his comrade get rid of the lice in his hair, circa 1916.

Original image source: Bibliotheque nationale de France

#WWI100 Project

Tomorrow marks the 100th anniversary of the British Army’s first engagement of the First World War, the Battle of Mons. There will be a couple of posts looking at the battle posted tomorrow but you can also catch up on all of the posts commemorating World War One’s centennial here.

So far there’s been everything from the July Crisis to mobilisation, to contemporary front pages to posts on the Belgian resistance and individual looks at each of the major armies engaged on the Western Front.


The Royal Scots Greys drilling at Brimeaux, 25 May 1918.

The effectiveness of the German Spring Offensives in pushing the French and British armies back also had the effect of changing the nature of the warfare in 1918. The static gridlock of the trenches was left behind and the fighting moved out into the open again, and during the British retreat cavalry again played a prominent role in assisting the infantry in delaying the German advance.

Gregory Manchess - Rise as One, Tarras Productions

A little over a hundred years ago, in the early days of WWI, a magical thing happened on Christmas Day nonetheless. On this day, the British and German soldiers took a brief peaceful ceasefire to venture out into No Man’s Land to play a friendly game of football ( soccer )…

During this past World Cup, Anheuser Busch teamed up with Tarras Productions to create a series of TV ads re-telling the tale. Gregory Manchess was hired to bring the film a new life with his special touch of oil paint to the series entitled,” Rise as One.”

The WW1.gif Project #4 | Historical World War I Films (ca1914)

| Hosted at: Internet Archive
| From: United States. Department of the Army
| Download: Ogg | MPEG4 
| Digital Copy: public domain

This is the 4th Animated GIF excerpted from Historical World War I Films, a WWI combat footage mislabeled at the National Archives as “HISTORICAL WW I FILMS, ca. 1941 - ca. 1945” National Archives Identifier: 13946

We invite you to watch the full video HERE.

WW1.gif by OKKULT Motion Pictures: a collection of GIFs excerpted from WW1 moving images. A chance to commemorate the millions of lives lost during one the most cruel conflicts of human history, and also to highlight the power of the animated GIF as a source for storytelling as well as a knowledge transfer medium.

28th July 1914 - Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia

On July 28, 1914, one month to the day after Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife were killed by a Serbian nationalist in Sarajevo, Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia, effectively beginning the First World War.

The following telegram sent by Count Leopold von Berchtold (Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister) at 11.10 am to M. N. Pashitch (Serbian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister), who received it at 12.30 pm

28 July 1914

The Royal Serbian Government not having answered in a satisfactory manner the note of July 23, 1914, presented by the Austro-Hungarian Minister at Belgrade, the Imperial and Royal Government are themselves compelled to see to the safeguarding of their rights and interests, and, with this object, to have recourse to force of arms.

Austria-Hungary consequently considers herself henceforward in state of war with Serbia.

Count Berchtold

Britain Declares War on Germany

4 August 1914

Britain made its formal declaration of war against Germany on this day in British history, 4 August 1914. After Germany’s invasion of Belgium, British PM Herbert Asquith had given an ultimatum that Germany withdraw by midnight of 3 August. A large part of this defence of Belgium stemmed from the 1839 Treaty of London, but Asquith still had the option of ignoring Germany’s advances on the continent. After the ultimatum expired and Germany remained in Belgium, Asquith declared that Britain was formally at war with Germany.

Sir Winston Churchill described the scene in London as the ultimatum expired and Britain entered into the Great War: “It was eleven o’clock at night – twelve by German time – when the ultimatum expired. The windows of the Admiralty were thrown wide open in the warm night air. Under the roof from which Nelson had received his orders were gathered a small group of admirals and captains and a cluster of clerks, pencils in hand, waiting. Along the Mall from the direction of the Palace the sound of an immense concourse singing ‘God save the King’ flouted in. On this deep wave there broke the chimes of Big Ben; and, as the first stroke of the hour boomed out, a rustle of movement swept across the room. The war telegram, which meant, “Commence hostilities against Germany”, was flashed to the ships and establishments under the White Ensign all over the world. I walked across the Horse Guards Parade to the Cabinet room and reported to the Prime Minister and the Ministers who were assembled there that the deed was done.”