At the start of 1918, Germany was in a strong position and expected to win the war. Russia had already left the year before which made Germany even stronger.
Germany launched the ‘Michael Offensive’ in March 1918, where they pushed Britain far back across the old Somme battlefield. However their plan for a quick victory failed when Britain and France counter-attacked.
Germany and her allies realised it was no longer possible to win the war. The Triple Alliance had been damaged. Some reasons for this included the fact that the Schlieffen Plan had failed in 1914 and the Verdun Offensive had failed in 1916. Germany was now losing the Great Battle in France and the German Navy had gone on strike and refused to carry on fighting. Furthermore, the United States joined the war in April 1917, which gave the Triple Entente greater power.
The leaders of the German army told the German government to end the fighting. Kaiser Wilhelm, Germany’s leader, abdicated (left his job) on 9 November 1918.
Two days later, Germany signed the armistice and the guns fell silent. People in Britain, France and all of the countries that supported them, celebrated the end of war – a war that had lasted four years and four months. In London, a huge crowd gathered in Trafalgar Square.
The myth of trench warfare
Millions of soldiers died on the Western Front in World War One. The horrific stories and images from the frontline all reinforce the idea that fighting in the trenches was one long bloodbath. But statistics tell a different story. There were certainly days of great violence during four years of war – such as the first day of the Battle of the Somme. But nearly 9 out of every 10 soldiers in the British Army, who went into the trenches, survived.
How was this possible, considering that over 5 million British soldiers served on the Western Front? And when they weren’t involved in an attack, what was everyday life like for the troops?
The average day began with ‘stand to’ before dawn. Gathering their weapons, soldiers took a place on the ‘fire step’, and as the sun rose, fired towards enemy lines in a daily ritual called the ‘morning hate’. After breakfast, the men worked on chores, from sentry duty to trench maintenance, spending their spare time catching up on sleep or writing letters. The ‘stand to’ was repeated at nightfall before groups were sent into the treacherous and deadly No Man’s Land. Others fetched rations, went on sentry duty, or left the firing line altogether. In all, most battalions rarely spent more than five days a month in the line of fire. So where were they most of the time?
To keep pace with the demands of the war and help sustain morale, the British Army often rotated its soldiers around the trenches. So the bulk of a soldier’s time was divided between a range of specialist areas behind the front line, all of which was made safer by the ingenious design of the trench system itself.
On average, the British Tommy spent almost half his time behind this line of trenches. Those who needed it received medical treatment and training, whilst others enjoyed relaxation and leave.
During the conflict, the British Army deployed more than a million horses and mules. There weren’t enough horses in Britain to meet demand, so over 1,000 horses a week were shipped from North America.
By November 1918, half of the British Army’s horses were in France. The rest were spread across the Balkans, Middle East, Egypt, Italy and the UK. There were four main roles. Supply horses and mules were used to move ammunition, general supplies and ambulances. Riding horses were ridden by soldiers behind, and sometimes even in, the frontline. Teams of gun horses pulled artillery pieces that weighed as much as taxis and cavalry horses were still used in battle.
World War One ended at 11am on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, in 1918. Germany signed an armistice that had been prepared by Britain and France.
Time to say Thank You
100 years ago the guns fell silent on the world’s first truly global war. It is time to think about all of those who lived through this tragic time – and say ‘Thank You’ for all they did for us.
The Armed Forces
At the end of WW1 four million soldiers returned home to find a shortage of housing and jobs – a struggling economy. Despite this they brought the same resolve to peace that they had shown in war, helping to rebuild Britain.
More than 340,000 children lost a parent and countless more lost brothers and uncles in WW1.
Despite this trauma, children played a vital role in the war effort.
Women played a huge role in WW1 and this helped to change the role of women in Britain. Their vital role in supporting the war effort meant that many more women worked in jobs outside the home.Pioneers
Pioneers in WW1 were driven to innovate and find new solutions. In medicine, Doctors and nurses vastly increased our understanding and use of new technology such as x-rays. If you have ever used a teabag or worn a wristwatch you can thank the necessity during the war for making them commonplace.