The outbreak of the Great War was greeted with an enthusiasm that seems extraordinary from the perspective of the 21st century. Across the world, men volunteered or were conscripted in their hundreds of thousands to fight in a war that “would be over by Christmas”. However, the terrible reality of warfare with mass armies and sophisticated weapons soon became apparent. In the face of terrible casualties and the stalemate of trench warfare, enthusiasm waned, to be replaced by a grim resolve to fight to the finish. What can we learn about the people of the Great War generation from this?
Whatever one thinks about the rights or wrongs of armed conflicts, the baseline is that there are no conflicts without people. People to decide, to fight, to oppose, to support or to endure. They are the rich, the common, the poor, the emperors, politicians, generals, captains, sergeants, soldiers and other ranks. But also the nurses, farmers, miners and munition workers, widows, heroes, refugees, the victorious and the vanquished. Their stories are intertwined with the bigger history, leaving an everlasting mark on their lives. It's this that makes them important.
As these men and women were all part of the bigger picture, we do not want to isolate their stories, but rather use them as examples for all their contemporaries. War has a face, and it's the face of the participants, their relatives, their friends, their neighbours. We tell their stories to illustrate the true impact of the Great War.
It could have been your story...