The First World War




General websites: (brilliant)

BBCi site (wonderful)

BBC animated map - brilliant

Learning Curve site

Spartacus encyclopaedia

Heritage of the Great War (inc. some horrific pics)

Dennis E. Showalter's summary


Documents and pictures:

Document Archive - HUGE

Vintage audio and video - amazing

Propaganda postcards (lots of postcards)


Colour postcards

7 World War One poems

Harry Lamin's letters - fascinating

HS Williamson


Film and Youtube

Murder Academy - disturbing images

Archive footage



- Giles Hill on World War I



The Trench Experience

3D pictures of trenches

Interactive OTT Adventure



Misrepresentation of a Conflict - Dr Dan Todman argues that it WASN'T a pointless 'killing fields'




The Western Front

On 3 August 1914, the German army invaded Belgium.   Britain declared war the next day.   The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) went to France.


For the first two months, the armies fought each other in a ‘war of movement’.   The German army came within 30 miles of Paris, then it was defeated at the Battle of the Marne (6–10 September 1914) and pushed back.


Towards the end of September, the Germans dug the first trenches of the war.   By November 1914 the line of trenches stretched from Switzerland to the English Channel.   The advance of the British and French armies was stopped.  


In 1915 the British government – at Winston Churchill’s suggestion – tried to open a ‘second front’ at Gallipoli, in Turkey.   It was a bloody disaster.   The Allies realised they would have to slog it out on the Western Front.







Conditions in the Trenches

For the soldiers, conditions were terrible.   Rain and cold were constant problems.   Artillery fire destroyed the drains, so the battlefields became quagmires of mud – often, men drowned in the mud.  


Sanitary arrangements were unsatisfactory, and disease killed as many men as the enemy.   The hundreds of human corpses made disease (and flies) inevitable, and trench rats grew fat on human flesh.   And thousands of casualties.  


Antibiotics had not yet been discovered, and – in the dirt – even a small wound often led to blood poisoning, gangrene and death.   Perhaps worse was to recover, profoundly disabled or mutilated.



The film All Quiet on the Western Front was based on the book by Erich Maria Remarque.   Although about German soldiers, it offers insights into how ordinary soldiers felt.


The War of Attrition

The war became a deadly stalemate.   Any attempt to break through the enemy’s line resulted in slaughter.   Men defended with machine guns, and used trains to rush extra soldiers to trouble spots.   They advanced on foot, with rifles.   At the Second Battle of Ypres (the battle when the Germans first used poison gas) the French lost 70,000 men.   In the Artois offensive (May to October 1915) the French lost 100,000 men.  


Then, in February 1916, the Germans launched a huge attack on Verdun.   The battle lasted 10 months.  In all, 280,000 Germans and 315,000 French died in the fighting; the French called the road to Verdun the voie sacrée (holy way), because so many men went down it to their deaths.  


In comparison, British casualties were relatively light.   French commanders, led by General Joffre, began to pressurise the British command to take a bigger part in the war, and particularly to do something to relieve the pressure on Verdun.  


That 'something' was the Battle of the Somme.


For the soldiers, the war was, in the words of one observer: ‘mud, sleet, ice, mud, noise, jagged steel, horror piled on reeking horror’.




1.   Find FOUR reasons the British came to fight the Battle of the Somme.

2.   List the factors which made the First World War particularly unpleasant for the soldiers.