As you may know, today we celebrate Armistice Day. Armistice Day is commemorated every year on 11 November to mark the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiègne, France for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front of World War I. It took effect at eleven o’clock in the morning—the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918.
While this wasn’t the actual end of the war–the armistice initially expired after a period of 36 days and had to be extended several times–a formal peace agreement was signed the following year with the Treaty of Versailles.
Alas, peace was not to last. The punitive measures the Allies insisted on, over President Wilson’s protest, made sure history would repeat itself. Indeed, Ferdinand Foch, the Supreme Allied Commander, is said to have observed upon reading the Treaty:
This is not peace. It’s an armistice for 20 years.
Foch was prescient; twenty years and sixty-two days later, Hitler invaded Poland.
In case you’re wondering, the Treaty of Versailles imposed a war indemnity on Germany equivalent to 96,000 tons of gold. Germany made its final payment of war indemnity in 2010. The total sum decided for the reparations of the war was set at a staggering 132 billion gold marks. The war drove Germany into a deep recession, setting the much needed groundwork for WWII. Of course, the war was a huge financial drain for everyone involved: the UK only repaid all of its debt from the First World War in 2015.
However, today is a day of remebrance and celebration, not of regret. To celebrate, here are some facts about The Great War you may not know!
Facts about The Great War you may not know
To commemorate Remembrance Day, here are some interesting facts about The Great War you may not know, courtesy of Quora.
- An explosion on the battlefield in France was heard in England. In Messines Ridge Belgium, miners detonated over 900,000 lbs of explosives, destroying the German front line. The explosion was so loud and powerful that it was heard by the British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, 140 miles away in Downing Street.
- Another explosion was the inspiration for the Nuclear bomb. On December 6, 1917. An outbound merchant ship SS Imo, collided with the inbound merchant ship SS Mont-Blanc. Mont-Blanc was laden with fuel and ammunition.The collision sparked a fire on board Mont-Blanc, after burning uncontrollably for approx. 20min. The ship exploded with a force not seen before. Sending debris and shrapnel in all directions, a ships anchor was found 4km from the explosion and a gun barrel over 5. All buildings in the immediate area were leveled. The explosion also created a tsunami 18 meters higher than the harbours high water mark and lifted Imo onto the Dartmouth shore. Over 2,000 people died with 9,000 injured and over 13,000 buildings destroyed or damaged. The explosive force was estimated at 2.9 kilotons TNT equivalent, still one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history.
- WW1 journalists risked their lives to report on the war. The Government tried to control the flow of information from the front line during the war and journalists were banned from reporting. The War Office considered reporting on the war as helping the enemy and if journalists were caught, they faced the death penalty.
- 12 million letters were delivered to the front line every week. Even during times of war, it only took two days for a letter to be delivered from Britain to France. By the time the war ended, over two billion letters and 114 million parcels had been delivered to the trenches!
- Plastic surgery was invented because of WW1. One of the earliest examples of plastic surgery came during World War I when a surgeon by the name of Harold Gillies helped shrapnel victims with terrible facial injuries.
- Blood banks were developed during World War I. It was during WW1 that the routine use of blood transfusion was used to treat wounded soldiers. In 1917, a US Army doctor by the name of Captain Oswald Johnson established the first blood bank on the Western Front. He used sodium citrate the prevent the blood from coagulating and becoming unusable. The blood was kept on ice for as long as 28 days and was transported when needed to casualty clearing stations for use in life-saving surgery on soldiers who had lost a lot of blood.
- The enormous scale of all those that needed medical care in WWI helped in the process of building a specialized and professionally managed medical industry that we have in today’s world. WWI was basically a place where doctors and physicians got to learn about human body and the way it worked, both inside out, like never before.
- 9 out of 10 British soldiers survived the trenches. British solders were rarely in the firing line in WW1. They moved around the trench system constantly and were usually kept from the dangers of enemy fire. Most British soldiers life in World War I would have regular routine and boredom. Millions of soldiers, however, suffered ‘’shell shock,’’ or posttraumatic stress disorder, due to the horrors of trench warfare. These men usually had uncontrollable diarrhea, couldn’t sleep, stopped speaking, whimpered for hours and twitched uncontrollably. While some recovered, most of them suffered for the rest of their lives.
- A U.S. commander used Choctaw tribe members form the Oklahoma National Guard unit, as they used an extremely complex language that the Germans could not translate. The eight Choctaw men and others who joined them became known as the Choctaw Code Talkers. Hitler, remembering this, sent agents to America prior to WWII to learn the Indian languages but they were not successful and as Hitler feared the US used Indians as “code talkers” again in WWII with some landing on D-Day.
- WWI is known to be the sixth deadliest conflict the world has witnessed. It took the lives of 9 million combatants and 7 million civilians. The Spanish flu also caused about a third of total military deaths during the war.
- The term ‘dogfight’ originated during WWI, as fighter planes would turn off their engines in mid air, while taking sharp twists and turns just so the engines wouldn’t stall and then start them again in mid air. As the pilots turned on their engines again, it made sounds similar to dogs barking, hence the word came in use.
- In the start of the year 1917, British cryptographers deciphered a telegram from German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmermann to Germany’s minister in Mexico. The telegraph encouraged Mexico to invade U.S. territory. The British kept it a secret from the U.S. for more than a month so they could use it at just the right time to help draw the U.S into the war on their side.
- A brave pigeon Cher Ami delivered a message which saved 500 men during the war even after being shot through the chest, losing a leg and an eye. She was awarded Croix de Guerre for bravery.
- The youngest British soldier in WW1 was just 12 years old. Over 250,000 underage soldiers were allowed to fight in World War 1. The youngest was a boy named Sidney Lewis who was just 12 years old but lied about his age to join. There were many thousands of underage boys who enlisted and most lied about their age. Some joined for the love of their country, while others did it to escape from the lives and the poor conditions they lived in.
- Army generals had to be banned from going ‘over the top’. One common stereotype is that ordinary solders were used by the higher ups. Incompetent generals don’t spend any time on the front line while thousands of solders were killed. Actually, so many British generals wanted to fight and they had to be banned from going over the top because they were being killed and the experience of a general was too important to lose.
- In his retirement, Otto von Bismarck became a stringent critic of Kaiser Wilhelm and his aggressive foreign policy. Bismarck predicted the German Empire would “crash”, twenty years after his own death. This prophecy was fulfilled: Bismarck died in 1898 and in 1918 Germany surrendered and the Kaiser abdicated.
- The years prior to World War I were particularly unsettled and dangerous. More leaders, politicians and members of noble or royal families were assassinated in the first 14 years of the 20th century than in the previous 150 years.
- Before the war, German had been the second most widely spoken language in the US. During the war, however, suspicion of the Germans was so high that even German shepherd dogs were killed. The names of frankfurters, hamburgers, sauerkraut and dachshunds were all changed to American names, German stopped being taught in schools and German-language books were banned.
- Woodrow Wilson won the election to the presidential office in 1926 with the help of the slogan “He kept us out of war.” A month after he took office, U.S declared war on Germany. History repeated itself with Roosevelt.
- The Belgian King personally led the army during the World War I. Even the Queen served as a nurse and the young 14 year old Prince was enlisted as a private (a soldier of the lowest military rank).
- The U.S. was in the war in actual combat for only seven and a half months during which time 116,000 were killed and 204,000 were wounded. Even so, WWI transformed the US into the largest military power in the world.