This Sunday marks 100 years since the end of the first world war. It is hard for me to really imagine what it was like to live all those years ago, but one thing is for sure, every day, I am grateful for the sacrifice that was made back then.
The war began on 28 July 1914.
I remember when the Falklands War started on 2 April 1982. Argentina invaded the Falkland islands over who should own it. It only lasted 74 days. I was 13 at the time. I had only really known about war from our history lessons and what I had read. I remember feeling a bit scared of what it would mean. Would my dad have to go off and fight? Would our house get destroyed? Everything was going through my head. Thankfully for us, this war didn’t really impact on us day by day.
Sadly, the same can’t be said for WW1. Back on that awful day in 1914, the lives of millions of people changed overnight and forever.
The war started because Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his pregnan wife Sophie of Austria was assassinated. Archduke Franz Ferdinand was the nephew of Emperor Franz Josef and heir to the throne of Austria and Hungary. The assassination was planned by a Serbian terrorist group, called The Black Hand. The man who shot Franz Ferdinand and his wife was a Bosnian revolutionary named Gavrilo Princip.
The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on 28th June 1914, it triggered a chain of events that resulted in World War 1. After the assassination, Austria-Hungary threatened war on Serbia. They set out some very high demands that Serbia must meet. Germany sided by Austria-Hungary, while Russia sided with the Serbians. At this point, Europe was at the brink of going to war.
One month after the assassination, on July 28 1914 ,Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia with the backing of Germany. Germany then declared war on Russia on August 1, and on France on August 3.
On August 4 1914, the German troops marched on France and the route they took went through Belgium. Since Britain had agreed to maintain the neutrality of Belgium, they immediately declared war on Germany.
British and Germany forces first fought at the Battle of Mons in Belgium. This was the first of many battles between Britain and Germany on the Western Front and is when World War 1 started for Britain.
There were 2 sides to the war. The Triple Ententes (Allied Forces) which was us here in Britain, France, Ireland and Russia. The other side was known as Central Powers which was Germany and Austria-Hungary.
Many of the countries involved in the first World War had problems with each other before the war, but when Archduke Franz Ferdinand was killed, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Germany declared war on Russia and France not long after. This followed more and more countries joining in the fight.
The United States didn’t get involved at first, but after a British passenger ship was sunk by a German submarine, killing 128 Americans, pressure from American citizens caused the US government to get involved. The President at that time, Woodrow Wilson, wanted to avoid a bloody war, but the Germans declared that they would sink any ship that came to Britain. Woodrow, had no option, but to enter the war to help Europe restore peace
In total 32 countries became involved in the war, including China, Belgium, Italy, Greece, Japan, Montenegro, Liberia, Romania and Portugal.
Over 65 million soldiers went to war. Over 8 million of them never returning. Another 21 million were injured. Those that did return, must have seen and heard some horrific things in their time. They would never come home the same person as they left!
Britain soon realised that they couldn’t continue fighting with just the current voluntary recruits.
You may remember from your history books, Lord Kitchener’s campaign – promoted by his famous “Your Country Needs You” poster. It was quite successful. Many men were proud of their country and wanted to fight for it. Over one million men had enlisted by January 1915. But this was not enough. We had already had many casualties. More men were needed.
The government decided it had no choice. It had to increase the numbers of soldiers. The only way to do this was through conscription – compulsory active service. Parliament was divided but they knew that the French army were suffering, they had no choice.
In January 1916 the Military Service Act was passed. This forced conscription on all single men aged between 18 and 41, but exempted the anyone deemed medically unfit, clergymen, teachers and certain classes of industrial worker.
Men who refused to fight on moral grounds (Conscientious objectors), were also exempt, but were given civilian jobs or non-fighting roles at the front.
A second Act passed in May 1916 extended conscription to married men.
Conscription was not applied to Ireland because of the 1916 Easter Rising however many Irishmen volunteered to fight.
Some boys even lied about their age, to be able to fight for King and Country. The youngest British soldier was in fact only 12. Sidney Lewis was one of 250,000 underage soldiers. Sadly for some, it wasn’t always to have the privilege to fight for King and Country. For some it was to escape their lives. How desperate must they have been to feel this was their only option.
You can imagine, this was not popular with some people. In April 1916, there were demonstrations in Trafalgar Square. Many men initially didn’t go when they were called up. In the first year though 1.1 million had enlisted.
The age limit was increased in 1918 to 51. Even though the war ended in 1918, conscription continued until 1920. In total, conscription increased the army by 2.4 million.
Can you imagine your father or brother coming home one day, and getting their paper to go to war? They would have heard what was going on. They knew that they were possibly going to their death. As a wife or mother, watching your husband and sons leave, never knowing if they would return. I’m emotional just thinking about it now.
They could of course write to each other. In fact over 12 million letters were sent during the war. Many men were away for many years. Missing out on seeing their children grow up. The letters and photos they were sent must have been so precious to them.
Thankfully for Britain, 9 out of 10 soldiers returned. Sadly, when you know how many died, the same can’t be said for other countries.
Why did the War end?
Britain had blocked all the ports in Germany with its Naval boats. Germans were starving as supplies couldn’t come through, and their economy was collapsing. Protestors started asking for the war to end. Pressure was falling on them. Something had to change.
The emperor at the time, Kaiser Wilhelm II decided to step down on 9 November 2018. 2 days later, the leaders of both sides met at Compiegne in France. Here they signed the peace armistice.
Although we celebrate the end of the war on 11 November at 11 am, when it was signed and the fighting stopped, the war didn’t officially end until 28 June 2019. This was exactly 5 years after Franz Ferdinand was assassinated.
It took 6 months to negotiate the peace treaty before the Treaty of Versailles was finalised. In this, Germany had to accept full responsibility for starting the war. They had to surrender their territories and colonies as well as reduce the size of its armies.
Why do we wear a poppy?
We wear a poppy to remember those who have given their lives in battle. It is said that the poppy was the first flower that grew on the battlefields after World War I ended. It is said that the red of the poppy, is from the blood that filled battlefields.
In the spring of 1915, after losing his friend in Ypres, a Canadian doctor, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae was so inspired by the sight of poppies growing in battlefields, he decided to write a poem – ‘In Flanders Fields’. This poem is now famous. Read it and see what you think. It really captures the feeling, don’t you think?
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
From then on, the poppy was adopted as a symbol of Remembrance.
How should you wear it? It varies, whoever you speak to! Some say men should wear it on the left, and women on the right, like you would a badge or brooch. The Queen wears hers on the left, so maybe not! There are also many people who say that the leaf should point to 11 o’clock. Whatever the correct way of wearing it is, the important thing is that we do wear it and know why!
You may not know those men who went off and fought for us, but if you dig around in your family history enough, you will find someone in your family that was effected. Even if you don’t, those brave men fought so you could have the life you have today.
There have been many more wars since this one. Many more have died because of War, The poppy is to remember them all.
A couple of years ago I bought my husband a very special poppy from the British Legion. It was made out of a bullet shell that had been found in the fields in France from the Somme. With it came a certificate to commemorate a soldier who died. We don’t know him. It doesn’t matter. He still died for us.
My husband wears it every year with pride.
We shall remember
From July to November 2004, the Tower of London with covered in 888,246 ceramic poppies. They were created by artists Paul Cummins and Tom Piper. They were to remember the first full day of Britain’s involvement in WW1. Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red was an emotional tribute to all that fought. My hubby and I both bought one each so we can always look at them and remember.
As in many towns and cities, Warwick too have a display in the main church of St Mary’s. All the poppies are hand knitted or crochet. Its amazing how many hours have gone into this. Some have been sent from countries across the world. My hubby, stepdaughter and I went for a visit to see it recently. A church seems the perfect place for it. If you get a chance, please go and visit this or any other display.
At 11 am on Sunday their will be a 2 minute silence to remember all the fallen soldiers. What ever you are doing at that time, stop! Take 2 minutes out of your life to remember! I always shed a tear. Writing this blog has raised the same emotion!
Don’t let those brave men and women have died in vain. Keep them alive in our hearts. All of them!