World War One was one of the worst conflicts in human history, leaving a devastating impact on the 20th century and influencing events for the rest of the century. Many historians feel that if there was no World War One, there would not have been a World War Two. As well, if there was no World War One, there may have been no Russian Revolution and therefore, no Cold War. The first industrialized war saw the mobilization of 70,000,000 soldiers and the death of over 15,000,000. While we all know how the war started and the various battles within the war, there are some little known facts about this world changing conflict.
It may be inconceivable these days, but in the First World War there was a Christmas Truce, when all fighting stopped and the two sides came together in celebration of the Christmas Spirit. On December 24, 1914, the German and British soldiers fighting in Flanders got together, sang Christmas carols, played soccer and exchanged gifts. Both sides were exhausted and happy to have some good cheer in their lives, even for a few hours. Apparently, it was the German’s who initiated the truce by singing Christmas carols. Hearing this, the British began to sing Christmas carols and the Germans invited them over. According to legend, one British soldier said he would rather die than sing in German. A German soldier apparently responded “It would kill us if you did!” This helped get everyone a bit more relaxed and they both came together and even had makeshift Christmas Trees. The truce lasted until January 1 when the two sides went back to killing each other.
The Treaty of Versailles ended the First World War and it was officially signed in 1919, five years to the day from when the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, which started The Great War. What is interesting is that the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 was not the first treaty with that name. There was a Treaty of Versailles signed in 1756, 1757, 1758, 1768, 1774, 1783, 1787 and in 1871
AEF Commander General Pershing and Allied Supreme Commander Foch of France were both not happy with the armistice, or the Versailles peace treaty. They both felt that a mistake was being made by not actually invading and defeating Germany, instead just having Germany lay down its weapons. The Germans were defeated he felt, but not beaten and he predicted that if the Germans were not beaten, they would come back forcing the world to fight them again. Foch even said that the Treaty of Versailles was not a treaty; he said “This isn’t peace; it is a cease-fire for 20 years!” Twenty years and two months later, Germany went to war with France and England.
The Treaty of Versailles was signed in a rail car, which was kept as a monument in France for many years. Roughly 22 years later, in June of 1940, Hitler made the French sign their surrender in that same rail car. Four years later, just before the Allies liberated France, Hitler had the rail car monument dynamited and destroyed to prevent the French from making Germany sign another treaty in there.
The Armistice was signed on the morning of November 11 at 5 a.m. Paris Time. Fighting continued though for the next six hours before ending at 11 a.m. The Germans wanted an immediate cease-fire but many Allies wanted the six-hour deadline so that their commanders could get the word. What happened among the commanders varied greatly. Some commanders had their men stand down and not fight. Their rational was why fight for a piece of land they could walk over in a few hours. Other commanders, especially in the American ranks, hoped for a bit more glory and promotion before the war ended and many wanted the Germans completely beaten. Thousands of men were killed and wounded in the last six hours of the war. The number of British and Commonwealth deaths on November 11 reached 863 before the war officially ended.
There are plenty of unexploded armaments located throughout the old battlefields of France and Belgium. These are still claiming lives almost 100 years since the war started, often by farmers working the fields. In 1955, a lightning strike set off one of the original 21 mines located at the Messines Ridge, which killed a cow. Even at the Canadian Vimy Memorial in France, visitors are not allowed to walk in certain areas because of the risk of undetonated explosives going off. Sheep are used to mow the grass in this area and sometimes they will trigger a bomb.
There were several firsts that occurred in the First World War beyond just being the first war spread across the planet. Some of the other firsts include:
- It was the first war to be fought on three different continents.
- It was the first industrialized conflict.
- The first use of chlorine and mustard gas.
- The first use of a flame thrower.
- The first tank bottle.
- The first use of mass airplanes and aerial warfare.
- The first use of x-ray by the military.
- The first use of a blood bank.
- The first use of guide dogs to help guide blinded soldiers.
- The first use of the value of trillion in estimating the cost of the war.
- The first use of war art as propaganda.
- The first use of an IQ Test.
- The first U.S. President to visit a European country by President Woodrow Wilson in 1918.
- The first four-star general rank was used in the war, given to General John J. Pershing.
The First World War was a horrible war in terms of the loss of human life, and the conditions soldiers lived in were in many ways, barbaric. Here are some facts about what many soldiers had to deal with during the First World War.
- The shell blast concussion from a bomb could stop a man’s heart and rupture internal organs, killing soldiers with no obvious external trauma.
- When someone was injured, it would take six hours sometimes for stretcher-bearers to carry a man from the battlefield to a wheeled ambulance.
- If a soldier fell ill while marching, a Medical Officer would put a tag on them with a diagnosis. The man would then sit on the side of the road and wait to be picked up by a passing ambulance. Without this note, the soldier would have been considered to be a deserter.
- Millions of rats made their home within trenches and in the space between the German and Allied lines. The rats became so large and so bold with their feeding that they would eat a wounded man if he could not defend himself from them.
- If you were found to be drunk, a typical punishment was to have you tied to a wheel or stake for a few hours a day, or as long as 221 days. If you fell asleep while on sentry duty, you would be shot.
- Between the summer and fall of 1914, France lost as many soldiers on the battlefield as the U.S. Army would lose over the course of the entire 20th century, including in World War Two, Korea and Vietnam.
- Russia, which never counted the number of dead, is believed to have lost as many as six million soldiers.
- Most estimates of the number of soldiers who died in the First World War equals 230 soldiers dying every single hour of the war over the course of four and a half years.
Author: Craig Baird — Copyrighted © roadtickle.com