When the world was at war

One hundred years ago, in the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the Great War came to an end, leaving behind a trail of destruction, death and devastation.

Published - November 17, 2018 01:03 pm IST

IN THE TRENCHES:  A dire situation.

IN THE TRENCHES: A dire situation.

N ovember 11, 2018, was a special day. Do you know why? Because it was the centenary of Armistice Day. A 100 years ago, at 11.00 am on November 11 — the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month — the signing of the armistice between the Allies and Germany at Compiegne, France, brought World War I to an end. When the war began on July 28, 1914, no one believed that it would last for four long, dreadful years.

This was the first truly global war involving countries across all the continents. Over 30 countries were involved, with the main combatants — Britain, France, Russia, Italy, Serbia, and the U.S. on one side and Germany, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire on the other. From a regional conflict in the Balkan states of Europe, the war engulfed not only the continent but also spread to Africa and West Asia. Countries as far away as Canada and Australia also joined the war as did colonies of Britain like India. Over 65 million men joined the armies of their countries either voluntarily or through conscription.

Filling the gap

This led to huge gaps in various industries and in agriculture, especially in Britain, which were filled in many cases by women. For the first time, women found work in offices, factories, farms and industries. In fact, without their contributions to the war effort by growing food and making weapons, Britain could not have won the war. When the war ended, many expected the women to get back inside the home. But having got a taste of life outside, women began to fight for their rights.

The war led to the growth of the armaments industry as each country had to ensure its army had enough supplies. Britain faced some problems early in the war and so the government got involved in producing the material required. According to the IWM (Imperial War Museum) website, “These controls helped its industry produce nearly four million rifles, 250,000 machine guns, 52,000 aeroplanes, 2,800 tanks, 25,000 artillery pieces and over 170 million rounds of artillery shells by 1918.”

New methods of warfare and advanced weapons brought changes in military tactics. For the first time, aircraft were used as weapons of war leading to civilians being directly affected by war. Chemical warfare also entered the fray as combatants used poisonous gases against each other. Trench warfare was introduced in the winter of 1915 when both sides dug long ditches facing each other. Life in these trenches was horrible; as the soldiers had to face rats, insects, overflowing latrines, and infestations of lice and fleas. Soldiers had to also live alongside bodies of fellow soldiers. Germany used huge airships called Zeppelins and biplanes called Gothas to bomb British cities by night and day. The British government enforced a blackout after sunset, which meant people couldn’t use lights. Seaside towns were also bombed by the German Navy. A surprise attack on the towns of Scarborough, Hartlepool, and Whitby on the night of December 16, 1914, killed 592 people and injured 137.

Apart from battlegrounds, the war was also fought via propaganda. On the one side was the effort to inspire patriotism and nationalism and get more people to join the army; on the other was the demonising of the other side through narrating their atrocities.

Fascinating facts:

* H ow many of you like Winnie the Pooh? Did you know that the loveable bear has a World War I connection? Winnie, a young bear, was the mascot of the Canadian army and had been left at the London Zoo for safekeeping. Christopher Robin, A.A. Milne’s son, named his toy bear after Winnie. This inspired his father to write the Winnie the Pooh books.

* T he biggest and bloodiest of battles was the Battle of the Somme. Fought across River Somme in France, it went on for five months and caused over a million deaths. It was also the first time a tank was used in war.

* B y the time Armistice Day came around, 16 million people, both soldiers and civilians, had died and many millions more were left dealing with disabilities, terrible wounds and mental trauma. Gender and class differences began to be slowly erased and the Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires all collapsed. The financial cost of war led to economic crises in many countries both among the victors and the defeated.

World War I was called the “Great War” and “The war to end all wars”. But just 21 years later another began, which left a bigger trail of devastation and death in its wake.

* C hildren who belonged to the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides also played an important role in Britain. While the girls made bandages, swabs and slings, helped on agriculture and dairy farms, the boy scouts helped protect roads and railways and worked as delivery boys. Young boys enlisted in the army by lying about their age. The youngest was Sidney Lewis, who was just 13 when he fought in the Battle of Somme. He was sent home after his mother produced his birth certificate at the War Office.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.