The politics of 19th Century Europe were messy. (What’s changed?) It was made up of various Empires spreading across the world, trying to show each other who was the biggest power. They each built up massive armies to stave off war, thinking that everyone else would be too scared to fight against them, or so they thought… Things all changed when a gang of Yugoslav nationalists who didn’t like being part of Austria-Hungary shot the Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand while he was in Sarajevo. Swiftly the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia. Russia came in to aid Serbia, so Germany decided to declare war on Russia! Knowing that France would go to war with Germany, Germany decided to attack France quickly and invaded via neutral Belgium and Luxembourg and because of this, Great Britain stepped in to stop the Germans getting any closer. It was a mess of allegiances and old rivalries with two sides forming the allies and the central powers. And so began what became known at the time as The Great War; the war to end all wars! A new form of warfare evolved as these fully industrialized armies with engines, machine guns, airplanes and new chemical gas weapons fought against each other. It was the dawn of modern warfare. At the time, national pride was at an all-time high and men were proud to go off and fight for their country. It was seen as a romantic idea to go off and be a hero! Boys as young as 12 managed to lie their way into the army ranks only to discover that it was not such a sweet and honourable thing to die for one’s country! Germany marched on Paris but was stopped by the French and both sides dug themselves into trenches in what became known as the Western Front. On the Eastern Front, the Russians invaded Austria-Hungary but were stopped in Eastern Prussia by the Germans. The Ottoman Empire joined in on the site of the Central Powers in 1914. More and More nations from all over the world joined the fight as the war spread across Europe. Trench warfare was quite terrible. Each army would dig a long network of trenches in the ground, fortifying the front with barbed wire and sandbags. I was a long stalemate where neither side dared advance on the other. Machine guns were a new and very effective weapon. When the time was right, the army would climb up over the top and charge across no-man’s land to the enemy trench and capture it, thus gaining more land and taking another step towards their goal! At least that was the plan… Spirits were high at least when the first Christmas came by. Both forces climbed out of their trenches to celebrate Christmas together, talk, share stories and play football. When Christmas ended, they would climb back into their trenches to become enemies once again. Conditions in the trenches were dreadful.
Soldiers in France and Belgium found their feet rotting away from the constant damp. In contrast, Australian, New Zealand and Ottoman soldiers fighting in Gallipoli had blisteringly hot trenches where rain and cold were replaced with dehydration and overheating. Disease was everywhere in the trenches. 1916 saw a renewed push on the Western Front from both sides. Thousands of French died at Verdun as the Germans unleashed their chlorine gas. The infamous Battle of the Somme was a long and grueling battle that lasted from July to November. The first day alone saw over 80,000 men wounded or killed; mostly British, due to disastrous attacks. Fundamental errors and contradictions from the high command led to confusion and unclear plans. In places, soldiers weren’t organized in time to charge so by the time that they got going, the artillery had stopped firing on the Germans, allowing them to easily fire upon their attackers.
Planes and artillery were supposed to clear the German barbed wire, but the shrapnel was ineffective against the wire. When the order came to go over the top, thousands of men ran out to their death to be caught on the barbed wire and picked off one by one by the German machine guns. this battle saw the first use of tanks by the British. Ultimately, France and Britain pushed against Germany and gained much ground. By Christmas 1916, no man wanted good cheer wished upon their faceless enemy. During 1916 also, before the Somme, Irish Republicans staged an uprising in Dublin in the hopes to catch Britain while they were distracted by the war. It was crushed by Britain but after executing the rebel leaders Irish support for Britain and the war dropped, at least in the south of Ireland. Most Irish troops after that came from the Protestant North. On the sea Britain mined many patches of international water to stop movement of German ships. Germany was blockaded. After many naval battles, Britain tried to stay in control of the seas, above the water at least! Germany were on the attack with the u-boat submarines adding a new dimension to Naval Warfare; they could attack without warning! They sank many ships including the ship The Lusitania and because this broke loads of war rules, it ultimately influenced the United States of America to enter the war… two years later! The British pushed up through the Arabian peninsula with T.E. Lawrence aka Lawrence of Arabia helping to organize the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire. In 1917, the Russians had a series of revolutions. In the February Revolution, the Tsars were gotten rid of, but Russia remained in the war, and the October Revolution, the Bolsheviks took control and brought power to the people and sowed the seeds for Communism in Russia. The Russians signed a treaty with Germany and pulled out of the war causing an initial difficulty for the enemies of the Central Powers. The Allies however became refreshed with reinforcements from the United States of America who eventually decided to enter the war in 1917 after Germany tried to convince Mexico to attack them. Germany made a fierce and effective push before the allies could use their advantage. However, American troops continued to arrive in such great numbers that Germany’s army couldn’t last any longer. The allies pushed up from Italy, the Balkans, and the Middle East putting Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire out of the war. As the allies advanced the Western Front, Germany called for an armistice to stop the fighting, bringing victory to the allies and an end to the war. The fighting stopped on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, 1918. It took six months to negotiate terms and it was ultimately decided that the Central Powers were to pay for the damages they had caused in the war. Germany only fully paid off this debt in 2010. The map of Europe was redrawn. Soldiers who made it home again were changed men. They were haunted by the horrors which they had seen in the trenches. Gas attacks, friends dying by their side, and the constant shelling of enemy artillery; they were shell-shocked and so many found it impossible to go back to normal life after the trenches. Many great poets and writers were inspired by their hell in the trenches such as Wilfred Owen, JRR Tolkien and Ernest Hemingway of the so-called Lost Generation? Some survived, many did not. The world was a changed place after the World War. People had seen the death and destruction that could be dealt by mankind. The men who left to become heroes came back scarred, or worse never returned at all. The poppy is used to remember the millions who died in this war as it was just about the only flower to grow in the carnage-ridden wasteland between the trenches. The world was now a darker place. People hoped that it would indeed be the war to end all wars! Unfortunately, they were mistaken… If you liked this video, please subscribe and you can follow me on Twitter at @johndruddy or find me on Facebook through Manny man Comic and John D Ruddy artisty actory guy and If you want to find out more about World War One and also the Easter Rising of 1916 I’ll be doing an Irish tour of the play The Rising by Joe O’ Byrne where we tell the story of the Easter Rising through the eyes of two friendly foes. Billy McKeague, a Loyalist from Belfast and Paddy O’Brien, a Republican from Dublin. The dates are up here and you can find out more on Facebook. Thanks so much for the support glad you enjoy it!