see also: The Soldier King / Visit to King Albert in Furnes / King Albert's Men / Belgium Set Free : 1918
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Wars are primarily about fighting and killing, but it would be a great oversimplification to state that that is all they are about. Quarrels between nations and groups of people do indeed produce misery and suffering for all those willingly or unwillingly involved, but thankfully there is much more to study and learn about the great conflicts of our time than merely the violence and destruction they caused.
Wars can set about vast changes in society, be switching points in history, can be begetters of social movements and the origin of future problems. They are also prime movers in bringing about innovation and new and different ways of doing things and of organizing society.
When looked at in that light, the Great War of 1914-1918 can justly be considered to be the pivotal event of the 20th century. Essentially, both the conflicts that lay at the origin of the Great War as well as the newly created enmities resulting from the Great War remained unresolved and led to a continuation of the great struggle of nations some 20 years later. Bolshevist Revolution and Cold War, Fascism and the creation of new nations and Nationalisms, all these are unintended consequences of the War of 1914-1918. Many of these problems are still with us to this day, the break-up of former Yugoslavia into ethnic divisions being but one glaring example.
On the other hand, the war set in motion social changes that would otherwise have taken much longer to manifest themselves and gain wide-spread acceptance. The idea of equality between the sexes, to give one obvious example, was given an unintended boost by the necessary wide-spread integration of females into the general work force. This in turn engendered changes in social and sexual mores, customs and socially accepted behavior.
It is worth taking a look at the Great War behind the scenes, at the everyday life of the combatants and the home front. It is interesting to read news articles and books that people of that period read, to look at the photos and illustrations that appeared in the media. Quite often they give an amazingly fresh view of the Great War, for our view has been imprinted on us by schooling, present-day history books and novels, present-day movies and television shows.
To try and get a glimpse of what people during the years of the Great War read and saw, I will try to mainly use period material on this website : news articles from magazines and excerpts from period history books. An amazing number of weekly periodicals dealing with the Great War was published in Great Britain, France, Germany and Belgium. They were often intended to be bound in volumes and kept as valued books. A wealth of material can be found in such sources, both written and photographic as well as illustrated. In fact, though now it seems to be largely forgotten or ignored, a large portion of news magazines at the time, was filled with hand-drawn illustrations. Since photographs of newsworthy subjects were not always readily available, especially scenes of actual combat and fighting, news editors resorted to the simple expedient of commissioning illustrations. This was a wide-spread practice, especially in the early days of the war. When applicable, I will try and use such forgotten illustrations.
Apart from a few exceptions, I will try to limit sections on the great battles and actual warfare. There are many other excellent sites covering this aspect of the Great War. Instead, here you will find the somewhat more unusual, the personal, the artistic, the comical and the odd type of subject-matter, hopefully displayed from a different angle.
It has been a while since this website was first started and as so often happens, things evolve differently than planned. For a variety of reasons a large part is now devoted to showing examples of the somewhat forgotten graphic art that was so abundantly produced during the Great War. Illustrations and drawings, by both famous, less famous, professional and amateur artists were not only made for personal gratification, but were also published extensively in the media. This type of art, representational and realistic, has not been appreciated overly much this past century. Nonetheless it was very representative of the popular style and taste at the time and helped shape and mould people's perceptions about events and things they could not experience or see firsthand themselves. Illustrating as a news-form, was still in competition with the use of photographs, and because of the dangerous nature of battlefields and warfare, was still a preferred and much used medium to impart images of warfare to a news hungry public. Present day history books, television and movies by their very nature, are inclined to use photographs as illustrative material. But by relying heavily and almost exclusively on the photographic record, we are apt to overlook part of the specific feel of the time of the Great War.
And that is one of the intents of this website. To try just somewhat to show what people read and saw during those long gone days of 1914 - 1918. We now have the perspective of history to look back from and make weighty and no doubt correct judgments and statements about the Great War, But people at the time experienced it differently. We may think they were misinformed and deluded, and perhaps they were, or maybe we have become incredibly cynical and mistrusting. What were once considered to be civic virtues are now thought to be quaint anachronisms at best or grand delusions at worst. Things change.
So even if what you see and read here appears at times to be heroically naive and unbelievably patriotic, touchingly romantic, and yet callous, cruel, insensitive or downright silly as well as horribly politically incorrect, remember that it is colored by the passage of time and should be appreciated accordingly.
'And always in my ears was the deep rumble of the guns, those great booming thunder blows, speaking from afar and with awful significance of the great battle, which seemed to be deciding the destiny of our civilization and the new life of nations which was to come perhaps out of all this death.'
from 'The Soul of the War' (1915) by journalist Philip Gibbs describing the Battle of the Marne
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- the following links will take you directly to the following sections on this page
- Tales of War
- On the Plains of Northern France
- Forgotten Fronts in France
- In Flanders Fields
- The Miracle of the Marne and the Hell of Verdun
- Christmas during the War
- Armistice and Afterwards
- Women at War and Helping Hands, Medical and Red Cross
- Prisoners of War
- On Russian Fronts
- The Far East and Africa
- Fighting Johnny Turk in the Ottoman Empire
- In the Balkans
- In the Alpine Snows
- Portraits of Soldiers and Armies
- Portraits of Generals and Leaders
- Non-English Language Magazine Articles (war-time journalism in French, Dutch, German...)
- Bibliography (with links to specific Great War period books and authors)
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Brave Little Belgium
Publishing and the Media
Magazine Covers and Illustrations
the War in Color
Art, Artists and Illustrators of the Great War
Spies, Executions and the Horrors of War
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