When the guns fell silent at 11 AM on what is now known as Armistice Day (November 11, 1918), Private George Edwin Ellison’s name would forever be engraved in history as the last British soldier to die during WWI. Ellison had served in the Western Front for four years; he was killed at exactly 9:30 AM, four-and-a-half hours from when the armistice was signed. He was also one of the 11,000 individuals killed on the war’s last day – quite an astounding number of casualties.
In connection to the forthcoming centenary of the start of WWI and the coming Armistice Day celebration this November 11, here are 40 other fascinating facts about the 1914-11918 Hostilities – “the war that was meant to end all wars”…
1. 19 was the official age for a British soldier to be sent overseas to serve but many lied about their ages. Approximately 250,000 British lads did that and served whilst they were still under-aged. The youngest was reported to be only 12.
2. A soldier’s average life expectancy while in the trenches was six weeks. Some of the people who were mostly at risk of early death were the junior officers and the stretcher bearers.
3. In the four years of WWI, 25 million tons of supplies were sent to the British forces serving on the Western Front – three million tons of food and five million tons of hay and oats for the horses.
4. As the war progressed, food rations for the soldiers were significantly reduced to keep up with the supply-man ratio. There usual meal while in the trenches was maconochie – so named after the company that made this thin soup of turnips, potatoes and carrots. Other food servings included bully beef and Marmite. There was also a small ration for rum and tea, but soldiers found the latter with terrible taste since water at that time was treated with chloride of lime to purify it.
5. About 6,000 men were killed on daily basis during WWI. This amounted to over 9 million deaths throughout the war.
6. An amazing number of 65 million men coming from 30 various countries fought in WWI.
7. Over 25 million miles of trenches were dug and zigzagged through the Western Front alone. A number of these trenches were nicknamed Bond Street or Death Valley while the German lines were dubbed as Pilsen Trench, so on.
8. Germans had superior trenches compared to the Allied ones. These trenches were built to last, some had even shuttered windows and doorbells! Trenches of opposing sides were 50 yards apart in Hooge which was near Ypres.
9. A soldier get to spend 15% of the year in the frontline, that would be about no more than two weeks at a time.
10. During the Battle of Mons in 1914, the British troops efficiently fired their Lee-Enfield rifles the it got the Germans to believe they were up against machine guns.
11. During Christmas of 1914, a truce ensued between the opposing sides, unofficial at that, and along two-thirds of the Western Front observed that. A couple of German soldiers played a football match with British troops in No Man’s land near Ypres, Belgium. Germany won the game 3-2 though not on penalties.
12. Of the casualties on the Western Front, 60% were caused by shellfire. There were also about 80,000 cases recorded that were due to shell shock.
13. In 1917, George V was forced to change the royal family’s name from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor due to growing anti-German sentiment within Britain. A number of British road names were changed, too.
14. Some of the well-known people who served during WWI were authors AA Milne, the creator of Winnie the Pooh; JRR Tolkien of the popular Lord of the Rings Trilogy; sculptor Henry Moore and the British actor Basil Rathbone.
15. Not one of the soldiers had the protection of metal helmets at the start of the war in 1914. The French were the first to use and introduce them in 1915. Future British prime Minister Winston Churchill donned on a French one when he served in the frontline in 1916.
16. Air raids which occurred on Britain and were carried out by Zeppelins and other other WWI crafts as well as the naval shelling Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby had casualties of more than 700 people.
17. Disease is the main reason for about a third of the soldiers’ deaths during the war. Trench foot, the number one condition that plagued the soldiers and was caused by the damp and cold, was eased with the use of duck boards. However, semi-sanctioned brothels set-up just behind the frontline had about 150,000 soldiers sick with venereal infections.
18. About 346 British soldiers were shot down by their own side, and the number one reason for this was desertion. Another ratification was called the Field Punishment No. 1 – offenders were strapped to a post or gun wheel which was usually located within the enemy’s firing range.
19. Aside from taking up thousands of jobs males left at home for the war, about 9,000 women also served in France as part of their Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps and served as cooks or drivers during the war.
20. There were about 16,000 faithful war objectors who refused to take part of WWI; many of which were given a white feather as a sign of cowardice. A number were given non-combatant responsibilities while the others were imprisoned.
21. The most popular WWI recruitment poster with the slogan “Your Country Needs You!” had Lord Kitchener featured on it with a pointing finger.
22. There were so-called Pals Battalions during the war and these included groups that had banded together – schoolboys, railway workers and there were even two groups composed of professional football players.
23. About 2,446,719 Britons volunteered for the war by the end of 1915. Nevertheless, induction was still needed and was introduced for 18 years old up to those aging 41 in 1916.
24. The Victoria Cross was given 628 times. Its youngest recipient had been 16-year-old Jack Cornwell who refused to leave his post despite suffering from fatal injuries during the Battle of Jutland.
25. One of WWI’s greatest blasts happened at Messines Ridge, in Belgian West Flanders when the British set off a million pounds of explosives under the Germans; the explosion that resulted from the said blast was heard 150 miles away from London.
26. In 1917, the loss of British shipping to German U-boats meant food shortages for the British. The government had to ban the use of rice during weddings and pigeon feeding due to this.
27. Animals were also used during WWI. There were about 100,000 homing pigeons used as message carriers. One particular bird called Cher Ami saved 200 US soldiers who had been cut off when it delivered their message to rescuing forces in spite of its bullet wound.
28. The British Army had 870,000 horses at the height of war. Dead horses were melted down for their fat, the latter used in making explosives.
29. WWI also had dogs – they were employed to lay down telegraph wires; terriers became rat hunters.
30. The periscope rifle was developed to allows soldiers to see over the 12-feet deep trenches. Other advanced weapons in WWI were flame throwers and tanks. The first tank came out in 1915 and was nicknamed Little Willie. Tanks, from then on, were named males if they were armed with cannons and females if with machine guns.
31. Many Trench language permeated the English vocabulary – there were lousy and crummy for the lice that beset the soldiers in the trenches as well as dud, bumf and blotto. Trench butterflies was the term for the bits of toilet paper blown about in the battlefield.
32. The Eiffel Tower was essential in intercepting radio messages made by the Germans that eventually led to the execution of Mata Hari, Dutch dancer who was also a German spy. British nurse Edith Cavell was shot by the Germans through a firing squad when they discovered she had been helping soldiers escape behind German lines.
33. At the start, the soldiers’ only protection against gas attacks was cloth soaked in their own urine. It was British officer Edward Harrison who invented the first practical gas mask saving thousands of lives throughout the war.
34. The Defence Of The Realm Act 1914 was an amendment which included these set of rules – Britons were not to talk over the phone using foreign language; it was also forbidden to buy binoculars and to hail a cab at night. Even alcoholic drinks were watered down and it was mandatory for pubs to close down at 10 PM.
35. The battle away from the Western Front was just as ferocious. Lawrence of Arabia forged his well-known name during the war in the Middle East while in the Gallipoli campaign, which failed by the way, the Allies suffered 250,000 casualties in their fight against the Turks.
36. The war in the air was also fierce – The Germans had Baron von Richthofen, dubbed as the Red Baron, as their air force’s star pilot. He shot down 80 war planes of the Allies. On the other hand, the British force’s air ace was Major Edward Mannock who was able to shoot down 61 of the enemy’s planes. Both, however, died in action.
37. Superstitious beliefs were rampant among soldiers in the trenches. Some swore they saw angels appearing over the trenches saving them from disaster while others stated that they saw phantom cavalry.
38. Britain spent £6million daily to fund the war by 1918. WWI’s total cost was estimated to amount to £9,000million.
39. As soldiers returned to their homes after the war, there ensued a baby boom. Births had significantly increased by up to 45% between 1918 to 1920. However, the influenza pandemic the occurred in 1918 killed more people throughout the world than WWI did.
40. July 1, 1916 – the morning of the Battle of the Somme – British soldiers had 60,000 casualties, over 20,000 were dead. It was the worst toll within a day in the whole military history. The Allied forces were able to advance six miles that day.