Listen, our guns have stopped (Capt. Darling)
You don’t think (Lt. George)
Maybe the war’s over, maybe it’s peace (Pte. Baldrick)
Oh, hoorah! the big knobs have got round the table and yanked the iron out the fire (Lt. George)
Thank God, we lived through it, the Great War – 1914 to 1917 (Capt. Darling)
Blackadder, Plan F – Goodbyeee (1989)
Of course, Capt. Darling is wrong, the Great War didn’t end in 1917 moreover it lasted another year. In this month’s blog we thought that we would take a look at the war and the remembrance of it.
This last weekend the nation came together to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, and remembered the men, women, children and animals that have fallen in many military campaigns over the years.
At 11am on Sunday, exactly 100 years since the guns fell silent, Her Majesty the Queen, led the Nation in a 2 minutes silence at the Cenotaph, London. Her Majesty watched the events from a balcony in the Commonwealth Office as members of her family laid wreaths in memory of the war dead.
Let’s now roll time back to the beginning of the Great War.
Back in 1914, the world looked very different to today. If we look at a map of Europe, for instance, you will see country borders are completely different and modern-day countries are joined together making very different countries. Each with different leaderships in comparison to modern-day for example, Germany had a monarchy being led by Wilhelm II, sometimes referred to as the German Emperor. At the end of the war the country borderlines changed into a more recognisable continent.
Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand
In the lead up to the commencement of World War I there was a chain of events that led to the War, however the one event that stands out is the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir assumptive to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in June 28th, 1914 by Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb and member of Young Bosnia a Yugoslavist organisation seeking to end the rule of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in Bosnia and Herzegovina. During the assassination Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg was also assassinated.
Following the assassination, a month of diplomatic manoeuvring took place between Austria-Hungary, Germany, Russia, France and Britain; this was called the July crisis. It is interesting to note that during this time the three principle monarchs were in actual fact first cousins. The three monarchs in question are:
Britain – King George V
Germany – Kaiser Wilhelm II
Russia – Tsar Nicholas II.
The Lead-up to War
On July the 23rd, Austria-Hungary delivered an ultimatum to Serbia, which was a set of 10 requirements needed by them to prevent war, although Austria-Hungary knew that they were totally unreasonable, however all but demand 6 were accepted by Serbia. This was the demand to allow investigators into Serbia to investigate the assassination of the Archduke. Serbia denied this request. On July 28th a whole month after the assassination, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. By the 30th of July, Russia had ordered the mobilisation of their troops in support of Serbia, and the following day the Germans declared Erklärung des Kriegszustandes translated to State of Danger of war. In order to try to prevent the situation escalating, Kaiser Wilhelm II asked his cousin Tsar Nicholas II to stop their mobilisation, when this was refused, Kaiser Wilhelm II sent an ultimatum to Russia and a similar one to France, asking the French to not support the Russians. With no satisfactory answer, on August the 1st Germany mobilised their troops in support of Austria-Hungary. On the 2nd of August 1914, Germany invaded and occupied Luxembourg, declaring war on France on the 3rd August. On this same day, the Germans sent an ultimatum to the Belgian Government which demanded unimpeded right of way through the country. This was refused. The following day the Germans invaded, to which King Albert of Belgium ordered his military to resist this invasion and called for assistance under the 1839 Treaty of London.
The 1839 Treaty of London was a treaty signed by the Concert of Europe, the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Kingdom of Belgium. Under this Treaty, European powers recognised and guaranteed the independence of Belgium and also established the full independence of the German-speaking part of Luxembourg. Article VII of the Treaty required Belgium to remain neutral and by implication committed the members of the Treaty to guard that neutrality in the event of an invasion.
Now that King Albert had invoked the 1839 Treaty of London, Britain demanded that Germany respect the neutrality of the kingdom of Belgium and therefore comply with the Treaty. With no satisfactory response from the Germans, Britain declared war on Germany at 19:00 to become effective from 23:00 on the 4th August 1914.
During the next 4 long years of war, many campaigns and battles ensued between the 2 sides. The 2 sides were:
The Western Front
The First Battle of the Marne took place from the 6th to the 9th September 1914, when French and British troops confronted the German troops who were quickly approaching Paris in France as part of their quick invasion and occupation plans for France. The Allied Forces put a hold on the advance of the Germans and, importantly, counter-attacked driving the German troops back to the Aisne River. This is where both sides dug into trenches, and the Western Front became a hellish war of attrition for the next 3 long years. The First Battle of the Marne cost the Allied Forces 81,000 lives compared to 67,700 on the German side.
Battles of the Western Front include the Battle of the Somme and the Battle of Verdun.
The Battle of the Somme took place from the 1st July 1916 to the 18th November 1916. This was one of the bloodiest battles of the war, including on the first day alone the British forces suffered 57,000 casualties. It is said that by the end of the Battle of the Somme the Allied Forces had some 422,000 casualties and although the German number of casualties is controversial it is thought that they suffered some 465,000 casualties during the battle. It was the Battle of the Somme that was the first great offensive for the British Army, which saw the British see a real improvement in development of tactics and a more critical view of the war. However, it is the sheer number of casualties that the battle is remembered for.
The Eastern Front
Over on the Eastern Front, the Germans weren’t having it their way either. The Russians had invaded East Prussia and Poland, the Germans did manage to stop their progress during the battle of Tannenberg in August 1914. Although they had won this particular battle, it meant the Germans had to move some of their troops from the Battle of the Marne on the Western Front, contributing to their defeat in this battle.
The Russian resistance in the East ensured that the war was a longer gruelling conflict than the Germans had hoped in the early days, which was why they had started battles on the east and west.
The Russians had their own problems at home as well as on the Eastern Front of the First World War. Partly due to the battles on the Eastern Front, the Russian population at home were suffering from a combined economic instability and the lack of basic provisions, as well as the news of the defeat at the battle of Tannenberg. These factors increased hostility towards the Tsar, Nicholas II, and his hugely unpopular German-born wife Alexandra. During 1917 the simmering instability exploded with a revolution led by Lenin and the Bolsheviks. The revolution ended the Tsarist rule in Russia and also halted their participation in the War, reaching an armistice with the Central Powers in December 1917, thus leaving the Germans to focus on their battles on the Western Front.
The Arrival of the Americans
So far, we have looked at the World War from the point of the European continent. So how did the Americans come to join in the battles?
President Woodrow Wilson at the start of the War favoured a policy of neutrality, enabling them to continue to trade with both sides of the conflict. This was a difficult policy to maintain as the war continued especially with Germany’s submarines attacking neutral ships. In 1915 Germany declared the waters surrounding the British Isles as a warzone, and their U-boats sank several commercial and passenger ships which included that of the United States of America. When the Lusitania was sunk by the Germans there was a widespread protest in America which started to turn the tide of opinion in the States on the War. The Lusitania was travelling from New York to Liverpool with 1,266 passengers and 696 crew on board. When it was sunk by the U-boat 1,198 people died.
By February 1917, Congress had passed a $250 million appropriations’ bill intended to prepare the country for war. In the following month the German U-boats sank a further 4 US merchant navy ships. President Wilson Woodrow stood up in Congress on the 2nd April 1917 and called for a declaration of war, which was granted, and he then led the country into war against Germany, something which he had won an election a few years earlier for not doing!
Winston Churchill and the First World War
During the First World War, a young Winston Churchill was the First Lord of the British Admiralty. During his leadership, the Allies turned some attention from the stagnant battle in Europe to the Ottoman Empire who had entered the war in late 1914 on the German side. The first attack failed and was focused on the Dardanelles. As this had failed the Allies turned their attention to a land invasion on the Gallipoli peninsula in April 1915. Sadly, this invasion also turned out to be an epic failure, and so in January 1916 the Allies performed a full retreat having suffered 250,000 casualties.
First Lord of the British Admiralty Churchill then resigned his post and accepted a commission with an infantry battalion in France.
The War on the Seas
Prior to World War I it is fair to say that the British Royal Navy was far superior to any other Navy in the world. Although the Germans were taking strides to catch up, they still had a long way to go at the start of the war. Germany’s main threat on the seas came from their fleet of U-boats as explored a little earlier.
Having successfully attacked the coastal towns of Hartlepool and Scarborough in December 1914 with their navy in a surprise attack, the Germans decided to mount another attack. This time on the morning of January 24th 1915 the Allies intercepted the approaching ships. The German Admiral turned his boats around, thinking that they could outpace the British naval ships, he was however mistaken and at 9am his lead ship had been shot at and hit from more than 20,000 yards away. Of the 4 ships sent by the Germans 1 was sunk and the other 3 damaged, whilst the British Navy was successful in defending the country despite, they too suffering from casualties and damage to the ships. This battle which lasted just 1 day was called Battle of Dogger Bank.
It was almost a year after the Battle of Dogger Bank before the Germans attacked on the sea again with the Battle of Jutland which secured the superiority of the British Navy in May 1916, as well as ensuring that the German Navy would not try again to attack an allied naval blockade for the rest of the war.
The Second Battle of The Marne
Now that the revolution of Russia had occurred and consequently an armistice reached on the Eastern Front, the Germans were able to focus fully on the Western Front where the Allied Forces were struggling to hold off the German approach until the promised American reinforcements could arrive. Little did the World know that on July 15th 1918, the Germans launched their last offensive of the war.
The Germans attacked French forces who were by this time joined by 85,000 American troops as well as the British Expeditionary Force in the Second Battle of the Marne. The Germans failed in their attack and, having suffered 139,000 wounded or dead troops, were forced to retreat. The allied troops themselves suffered casualties and deaths which amounted to 112,617 troops.
Having lost so many troops, the Germans were forced to call off their planned attack further north, in the Flanders region between Belgium and France which they had identified as their best chance of victory.
Armistice came swiftly. Within a matter of weeks, the various countries fighting on the German side had surrendered and sought armistice.
The Armistice process began on the 29th September 1918 when Bulgaria first signed armistice in the Armistice of Salonica. By the 11th November 1918, all but Germany had effectively surrendered and sought armistice.
At 5am on the 11th of November 1918, armistice with Germany was signed in a train carriage at Compiègne. Who signed the Armistice?
The Signatories were:
On behalf of the Allies:
- Marshal of France Ferdinand Foch, the Allied Supreme Commander
- First Sea Lord Admiral Rosslyn Wemyss, the British representative.
Other members of the Allied delegation included:
- General Maxime Weygand, Foch’s chief of staff (later French Commander-in-Chief in 1940)
- Rear-Admiral George Hope, Deputy First Sea Lord
- Captain Jack Marriott, British naval officer, Naval Assistant to the First Sea Lord.
On behalf of Germany:
- Matthias Erzberger, a civilian politician
- Count Alfred von Oberndorff, from the Foreign Ministry
- Major General Detlof von Winterfeldt, Army
- Captain Ernst Vanselow, Navy.
The signed Armistice declared that the period of Armistice should commence at 12 noon German time. This makes it 11AM in Britain. It is because of this that we hear the phrase:
‘The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month’
As we started this month’s blog with the fact that this last weekend was the 100th anniversary of the Armistice of the First World War, as has become tradition, Her Majesty the Queen led the country in a 2-minute silence in memory of all the war dead, wounded and active servicemen and women. As with last year however, Her Majesty had asked her son and heir, Prince Charles, to lay her wreath at the foot of the Cenotaph. Her Majesty was proudly wearing a collection of poppies on her coat.
Why do we wear a poppy?
Poppies are worn to remember the lives lost in war, alongside the injured service personnel, as well as those that are in active service. The main reason behind the poppy is that the poppy is the flower that grew in the war-torn fields of Flanders after the war. John McCrae in his poem In Flanders Fields refers to them:
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.
The first time that poppies were worn to remember those who had fought for us was in 1921, when the Royal British Legion had been founded in the May of that year. Subtle changes have occurred to poppies that we wear over the years. When they were first introduced, they were made of silk, unlike the paper ones the majority of us wear each year. Another big change to the poppy over recent years is that the majority of them are now sold with a leaf, whereas the leaf used to be an optional extra. Some poppies are available with a stick pad on the back of them which negates the need for a pin, this is a good idea particularly for children.
Wearing a Poppy FAQs
Do I have to wear a poppy?
Absolutely not, no one should be forced to wear a poppy and nor is this the idea behind the poppy, The Royal British Legion says ‘It’s a matter of personal choice whether someone chooses to wear a poppy and how they choose to wear it. The best way to wear a poppy is simply with pride.’
Does wearing a poppy mean I support war?
No! poppies are not a symbol of supporting war, they are actually a symbol of respect for those who have sacrificed everything for our safety. However, as Churchill once said, ‘Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it’, therefore if we didn’t commemorate past wars it would mean we don’t learn from history.
Does the poppy symbolise bloodshed?
No, they symbolise remembrance.
Is the selling of poppies banned in certain communities?
The Royal British Legion says, ‘this is a rumour that circulates each and every year, and every year it has been untrue.’ They continue ‘No communities have banned the selling of poppies at remembrance or any other time.’
Is there a right way or a wrong way to wear a poppy?
The very simple answer to this question is NO! wearing of the poppy is a personal choice, and should you wish to wear a poppy in remembrance then you are free to wear it as you see fit, whether it be a red, white, purple or any other colour of poppy.
Used with thanks to the Royal British Legion
In the words of Rudyard Kipling:
Lest we forget
Just like every city and town in the country on Sunday morning, Cirencester our home town fell silent for 2 minutes to remember. During Sunday afternoon the town came together to try to break a record all in the name of Remembrance. The idea was to create a human poppy in the centre of the town, with people coming out to wear a coloured poncho, being asked to stand in a particular spot and then, when looked at from above, the result would be a poppy seen from above.
Whilst it will take a few weeks for Guinness to officially confirm, it is believed that 3,300 people made up the poppy, breaking the previous world record of 3,000 people. Below we have included a photograph taken from the sky to show what it looked like. We would like to thank the person who is attributed to the photograph, Chris Cleal, for this picture which has been shared on social media:
From all of us here at Fox Towers, Well done Cirencester.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
Robert Laurence Binyon
We Will Remember Them