World War 1 began on 28 July 1914 precisely one month after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir of Austria Hungary. Austria-Hungary considered this a declaration of war, kick starting one of the most devastating conflicts in human history. Leading countries such as Germany and Italy as well as Britain, France and Russia joined in the war effort due to obligations to Austria-Hungary and Serbia, respectively.
The Great War is most commonly known for its trench warfare, in which the Royal Engineers had a major role. The Royal Engineer Tunnelling Company, ‘the Moles’ had the task of tunnelling under enemy lines as well as responding to new chemical warfare and maintaining transport and communication links. After 1917, deep dugouts were built to protect from heavy shelling. For example, a Vampire Dugout, an underground shelter in Flanders, built after the Third Battle of Ypres. It was designed to house 50 men, but it is estimated that over 300 men may have used it before it was taken over by the Germans in April 1918 after only a few weeks. However, in September it was recaptured by the British.
After a naval arms race, in which Germany attempted to starve Britain into surrendering by blocking imports and then the sinking of three American ships, America joined the war which ultimately led to Germany’s armistice, when the powers against them were simply too great.
The result of this was that on the 28th of July 1919, the Treaty of Versailles was signed which bound Germany to over 6 billion pounds worth of reparations for war damage, as well as taking full blame for the War, a reduction in all military arms and finally returning land they had taken back to their respective countries.
The German people considered this a betrayal by the Government, and so became the ‘Stab in back theory’. This anger at the Government and the disastrous economy led to the citizens looking for alternative extremist Governments who promised to return Germany to its former glory. In just fifteen years, Hitler had become the dictator of Germany.
By O. McGarrick
Photograph shows soldiers bringing in wounded from No Man’s Land under a white flag.