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World War I

Analysis and Comment (43)

The German army prepares arms for the Kurds in August. The German army prepares arms for the Kurds in August. Jan Woitas/EPA

Arming the Kurds builds on long history of proxy warfare in the Middle East

An “initial gifting package”: the opaque label is wrapped around £1.6m worth of heavy machine guns and half a million rounds of ammunition, which has now reached the Iraqi town of Arbil courtesy of the…
Yes…but is it war? Inspecting weapons seized in east Ukraine. Yes…but is it war? Inspecting weapons seized in east Ukraine. EPA/Tatyana Zenkovich

Explainer: when does a conflict become a war?

Is the conflict in Ukraine a war? This question has been raised in recent reports about a Russian invasion in Ukraine on the Caspian Sea. The USA and other NATO powers call it an “incursion”; the Baltic…
August 1914: London volunteers await their pay at St. Martin-in-the-Fields. August 1914: London volunteers await their pay at St. Martin-in-the-Fields.

‘Your country needs you’: why did so many volunteer in 1914?

On the first day of the war in 1914, British newspapers published appeals for young men to join the colours, and to fight against Germany. Following the advice of the new Secretary for War, Lord Kitchener…
Driving ambulances in Belgium: better than knitting at home. Driving ambulances in Belgium: better than knitting at home. www.gwpda.org/photos

Women volunteers: first to the war zone in 1914

The volunteer is at the heart of British perceptions of the World War I. We are all familiar with images of young men leaving home, standing in long queues at recruiting stations, and being examined by…
Ready, but not necessarily equipped. Ready, but not necessarily equipped. Phillip Capper

Was Europe really ready for World War I?

How prepared were the Great Powers for war in 1914? Too often, this question has been answered by pointing to expectations of a short war, and to muddle and inefficiency in its opening stages. The realities…
‘Memorial diplomacy’, on display in June’s D-Day commemorations, is a mode of symbolic soft power politics which uses sites of memory and commemorative events to boost relations. ‘Memorial diplomacy’, on display in June’s D-Day commemorations, is a mode of symbolic soft power politics which uses sites of memory and commemorative events to boost relations. AAP

The WWI centenary in France and the diplomacy of shared memory

When French president François Hollande rose to deliver the keynote address for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day Landings earlier this year, he set in motion an unprecedented five-year cycle of commemoration…
A field of poppies, symbolising the soldiers' sacrifice, has been sown in Northwood, London, for the centenary of the First World War, but the civilian losses are no less worthy of remembrance. A field of poppies, symbolising the soldiers' sacrifice, has been sown in Northwood, London, for the centenary of the First World War, but the civilian losses are no less worthy of remembrance. AAP/Newzulu/Stephen Chung

On Hiroshima Day, remember the civilian victims of ‘total war’

Hiroshima Day is the closest we come to a day that focuses on the plight of civilians in war. The two atomic bombs dropped on Japan immediately killed over 120,000 civilians, but over the years the day…
A French deserter or spy faces the firing squad in this photograph from 1914/15. A French deserter or spy faces the firing squad in this photograph from 1914/15. Wikimedia Commons

Shell shock treatments reveal the conflict in psychiatry’s heart

One of the most iconic images of the first world war, the outbreak of which is being commemorated all over the world, is the deserter – heartlessly tried for cowardice, blindfolded and bound to a post…
World War I uniform supplier Burberry’s more recent incarnation. World War I uniform supplier Burberry’s more recent incarnation. EPA/Matteo Bazzi

From the Somme to the catwalk: the story of the trench coat

The words “trench coat” might make you think of a stylish, clean, unisex jacket. That feeling of exchanging your heavy winter coat for smart belted beige, striding down the street in springtime. Or perhaps…
The pandemic flu virus spread around the world in several waves, causing illness in 20% to 50% of infected people and death in 1% to 5%. The pandemic flu virus spread around the world in several waves, causing illness in 20% to 50% of infected people and death in 1% to 5%. British Red Cross/Flickr

World War One’s role in the worst ever flu pandemic

The great influenza pandemic of 1918-19, often called the Spanish flu, caused about 50 million deaths worldwide; far more than the deaths from combat casualties in the World War One (1914-18). In fact…
Germans today have little appetite for constructing new national myths about the Great War, or reclaiming old ones, because of painful associations with the more recent past. Germans today have little appetite for constructing new national myths about the Great War, or reclaiming old ones, because of painful associations with the more recent past. Robert Scarth/Flickr

Why the Great War centenary will be a non-issue in Germany

There is not much of a question of who controls the national myth of the Great War in Germany today. Nobody in particular seems to want to claim it. More interesting, however, is considering who has sought…
Dulce et decorum est. London, c. 1907. Dulce et decorum est. London, c. 1907. pellethepoet

The soldiers across Europe who were excited about World War I

When Britain declared war on Germany on August 4 1914, there had been a very long period of relative peace in Europe, stretching almost a century from the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815. There were…
Flanders Fields was once the frontline of war – it now is a place of remembrance. Flanders Fields was once the frontline of war – it now is a place of remembrance. Mark Wainwright/Flickr

WWI commemorations in Belgium give a glimpse of a divided nation

In Belgium as in Australia, there are no longer any surviving veterans of the Great War to witness the commemorations of its centenary. However, just as in Australia, there remains an immense interest…
An early version of the internet of things in the Somme. An early version of the internet of things in the Somme.

How WWI codebreakers taught your gas meter to snitch on you

In the depths of night on August 5th 1914 the British Cable Ship Alert took the first significant action of World War I, severing the five German submarine cables that ran through the English Channel…
Lord Northcliffe, press baron of 1914. Lord Northcliffe, press baron of 1914.

Press baron and propagandist who led charge into World War I

In his diaries, cataloguing his time as communications director at Number 10 during the premiership of Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell notes that in the week before the fateful vote on Iraq in March 2003…
In recent years, the service of troops from France’s then-colonies in both world wars has been the object of sustained presidential attention. In recent years, the service of troops from France’s then-colonies in both world wars has been the object of sustained presidential attention. EPA/Philippe Wojazer

Reconciliation or récupération? Indigenous soldiers in WWI

In vogue among the political left during the events in Paris in May 1968, the French term récupération refers to the danger of “the Establishment”, be it the government or a political party, seizing on…
Many parties have a vested interest in shaping the way we remember the Great War ahead of its centenary, but some are more equal than others. Many parties have a vested interest in shaping the way we remember the Great War ahead of its centenary, but some are more equal than others. EPA/Thomas Bregardis

Who owns the myths and legends of the Great War centenary?

When prime minister Tony Abbott declared at Villers-Bretonneux that “no place on earth has been more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than these fields in France”, Australian attention focused again…
Our book shelves would look very different. Our book shelves would look very different. Sharon Drummond

Without World War I, what would literature look like today?

As we begin to commemorate the outbreak of World War I in earnest, just how central the “Great” war is to Britain’s conception of its history is ever more obvious. And this is also very true in terms of…
Serbian infantry, 1914. Serbian infantry, 1914.

World War I: in the beginning …

With the exquisite turn of phrase for which she was so highly regarded, Barbara Tuchman once likened the Austro-Hungarian declaration of war against Serbia of 28 July 1914 to an example of “the bellicose…
Peter Foley, The Crimson Field’s hospital orderly. Peter Foley, The Crimson Field’s hospital orderly. BBC/Nick Briggs

Don’t forget the hospital orderlies of World War I, on or off the screen

With the centenary commemorations continuing, all things World War I have been filling our screens, pages and radio waves. The latest of these was the BBC’s The Crimson Field, a drama set in a field hospital…
“A few days rest in billets”. “A few days rest in billets”. Reproduced by kind permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library

Comics tap into the real emotions of the world wars

In its new exhibition, the British Library celebrate the subversive history of the comic. As ever, such a complex heritage can hardly be covered in such a show. But it is a symptom of a more widespread…
Tooth Hill Camp, 1918. Tooth Hill Camp, 1918. JB Winterburn. Source George Pascoe, 1918

How I found the lost desert camp of Lawrence of Arabia

A fantastic coincidence, coupled with research, led to my discovery of a wartime camp in the Jordan desert that was occupied in 1918. This was a camp used by T E Lawrence, or “Lawrence of Arabia”, and…
Not regulation… Not regulation… Fearless Stumbler

Current crafts craze echoes World War I knitting projects

The rise of stitch and knit clubs, guerrilla knitting, yarn bombing and calls to knit sweaters for oil-spill affected penguins have all drawn attention to craft as a force for social change. Knitting is…
Trench warfare was a calculated strategy. Trench warfare was a calculated strategy. USMC Archives

Four things we get wrong about World War I

Most wars are rich in tales of agency and decision. Yet many tales of the Great War are told otherwise. The dominant narrative tells us that we were passive victims of an irrational disaster. Everything…
An alternative form of war literature? An alternative form of war literature? Nomadic Lass

For another view of World War I, look to Lord of the Rings

In the year of the World War I centenary, much renewed attention has been paid to war poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon and tables in bookshops are groaning under the weight of their work. These…
Tomes of war stories. Tomes of war stories. gfpeck

Glory, farce and despair: the many stories of World War I

Anniversaries encourage reflection. Now, 100 years after the start of the Great War, anyone who follows current affairs or reads a newspaper is part of a cultural conversation, a widespread reassessment…
Forget Blackadder, these are the guys Gove should be worrying about. Forget Blackadder, these are the guys Gove should be worrying about. Ian West/PA

Young Brits think WWI was futile, but don’t blame Blackadder

As Britain starts four years of commemorating the centenary of the First World War, Blackadder Goes Forth, first broadcast on BBC1 in 1989, has, bizarrely, taken centre stage. To rather less fanfare than…
Who you think you’re kidding, Mr Gove? Who you think you’re kidding, Mr Gove? PA / Martin Keene

German historians have little time for Gove’s Blackadder jibes

Michael Gove must be off his head. In Germany any politician who tried giving professionals a history lecture would be considered a lunatic. German historians love to argue among themselves, and there…
Joan Beaumont’s new book Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War provides a strong insight into both Australia’s role in World War One and life on the home front. Joan Beaumont’s new book Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War provides a strong insight into both Australia’s role in World War One and life on the home front. Australian War Memorial

Book review: Broken Nation – Australians in the Great War

Over the next four years, the centenary of World War One will prompt the publication of a vast number of war-related books. In Australia, it will be hard to keep count of the new books on Gallipoli, with…
Trench fever: sometimes gallows humour was the only way to forget the horror of war. Trench fever: sometimes gallows humour was the only way to forget the horror of war. BBC

Gallows humour from the trenches of World War I

For the average soldier on the Western Front, very little happened on a day-to-day basis. Even when soldiers were at the front line, they watched and waited. Boredom was a major problem. But the prospect…
A GB (sarin) filled M55 rocket, is destroyed. A GB (sarin) filled M55 rocket, is destroyed. US Army Chemical Materials Agency

Chemical weapons and the scientists who make them

It would take a hard-hearted person not to have been moved to tears by the images on our television screens of Syria over the last week - of infants struggling to breathe while their parents looked on…
There are some powerful stories in the Anzac tradition but many more that are unknown to students. There are some powerful stories in the Anzac tradition but many more that are unknown to students. Australian War Memorial

Teaching the untold stories of World War I

“What are your legs? Springs. Steel springs”. Archy’s nervous mutterings before he sprints into gunfire are familiar in Australian history classes. So are the tale of Simpson and Duffy and their “bravest…
Analysing Anzac speech, slang and reading material gives us a better understanding of their experience. Analysing Anzac speech, slang and reading material gives us a better understanding of their experience. EPA/Tolga Bozoglu

From ‘Aussies’ to ‘Whizz-bangs’: the language of Anzac

Many place the Anzac legend at the heart of the Australian national identity. But some have rightly challenged this idea, opening up debate about why the Anzac story is so central to our national mythology…
There is an entire history of excuses given for why women shouldn’t be given roles in the military. There is an entire history of excuses given for why women shouldn’t be given roles in the military. Australian War Memorial Collection

Women in Australia’s military: On the frontline of the gender war

The recent plan to see women take on frontline combat roles in the Australian military from 2016 removes one of the last formal barriers to women’s participation in all realms of work. Unsurprisingly…
Uniformed attendees at the Remembrance Day service held in Sydney on November 11, 2010. Uniformed attendees at the Remembrance Day service held in Sydney on November 11, 2010. AAP/Greg Wood

Remembering the true meaning of Armistice Day

Australia now officially recognises two special days to commemorate our national history of being at war but neither of them is Sorry Day. The Australian history of engagement in war is primarily honoured…