the Great War

..wasn't that great at all

Tomorrow 28th of June, it will be 100 years ago since the start of the Great War, den Grooten Oorlog or the War of the Trenches. Well not really. It will be 100 years ago since it all started to evolve. The killing of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand eventually set the world ablaze. And this will be celebrated in every outskirt in the world, because it was a world war, the First World War. Although it was a complicated road towards that final moment the war started, I will try my utmost best to draw you a picture that will put most of the events into perspective.

He who has no interest in his past, has no future!

For many years now, this sentence has a special place in my memory. Not only because history repeats itself, but also because many thoughts, ways of governing, political systems or even travels have been invented, done or explored many years ago. Before we get started, we need to understand how the ties between countries were formed before the War. Most countries were family-tied like Russia, Germany and England. King George V was the first cousin of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. And these countries all had alliances with other countries, spread all over the world. There was great envy between the cousins related to their colonies. Typical family stuff!  But as they say: Blood is thicker than water, or is it?

European Family Tree

So in Europe we had several great powers that, one way or the other, ruled the continent. These were the German Empire, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, The Ottoman Empire, the Russian Empire, the British Empire, France and Italy. Germany had alliances with the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, Bulgaria and Italy. These three were called the Triple Alliances or Central Powers. Great-Britain and Russia had an alliance with France. We call these the Triple Entente or Allied Powers. So in simple language this meant, when, for whatever reason, one of these countries had gotten into any kind of trouble with another country, they asked their alliances to help them out. This could be a border-related problem or a simple act that would trigger actions.

This is what eventually started the Great War. The Archduke Franz-Ferdinand of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire was shot by a Bosnian-Serbian nationalist, named Gavrilo Princip, in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914, which resulted in an ultimatum (the Juli Ultimatum) from the Austrian-Hungarian Empire to the Kingdom of Serbia. By giving them terms for acceptance, the Serbs could prevent a war. They did not accept...
And so the War started with the invasion by the Austrian-Hungarian army into Serbia, which resulted in calling all allies to arms. When the Allied and Central Forces started to call upon their colonies to join the confilct, it became the First World War. Both sides thought the confilct would be settled before Christmas 2014. In the end the War took 4 bloody years until November 1ste 1918. At the beginning, most soldiers from the colonies came fully unprepared. The Sikhs came with a turban and sabre for protection, the Australians with their outback hats on, the Scots with their kilts and the Zouave came in bright red coloured baggy trousers and some sort of fez to protect their head. There are even pictures of African soldiers with feathers in their hair..These battle dresses evolved during the course of the War, but it shows that nobody was prepared for what would happen. It was the first war where machine guns were introduced. Guns simply spraying bullets like a shower rain. Tanks came to the front and what about Mustard Gas or Yperiet (named after the city Ypres, where it was used for the first time according to many). Envision yourself standing with a frontloader in one hand and a sabre in the other looking into the barrel of a German Parrabellum MG14!

a Zouave soldier

A German invasion into Belgium, Luxemburg and France and a Russian invasion into Gemany followed soon and there was no turning back now. The Western Front was formed when the Germans were put to hold on their way towards Paris. For the events that followed now, we started calling it the Trench War. Armies started to dug themselves in and formed miles and miles of trenches cutting through the landscapes and scarring it for the rest of their existence. Even until now, 100 years later, we can still see these scars where so many innocent lives and loved ones were lost. The Ottoman Empire joined in 1914 and formed another front. The same happened after Italy and Bulgary joined in 1915 and Romania joined in 1916. The Russian Empire collapsed mid-war in 1917 after the October Revolution. Following a harsh peace treaty with Germany in March 1918, Russia descended into civil war. On 17 July 1918,  Nicholas and his family were executed. This was almost certainly on the orders of the Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin.

The last German offensive in 1918 triggered the American forces, who have been part of the conflict since mid 1917, to dig in on the Western Front. By now Germany is having issues of their own they need to attend to with youth and their revolutionary ideas. Everybody is tired of this War that would suppose to last until Christmas 1914! After several successful offensives by the Allies Forces, Germany signed the armistice on 11 November, 1918. The day we now call Wapenstilstandsdag or Armistice Day.

The World at War

The Empires that started this war, ceased to exist after it. The German, Russian, Austrian-Hungarian and Ottoman were military and political beaten. The first two lost many ground after the Treaty of Versailles and their Revolution. The other two simply did not exist anymore and were completely dismantled. Central-Europe was being redrawn into several smaller states and the League of Nations (Volkenbond) was set up to make sure this would never ever happen again...until in 1933 an ex-soldier who fought and got wounded in the trenches of the First World War became Reichskanzler, Chancellor of Germany.

Grieving Parents by K.Kollwitz at Vladslo

On 28 July 2014 it is 100 years ago since the start of the First World War. The world lost 35 million sons and daughters and Europe became a completely different continent. Nationalists like Mussolini, Hitler, Franco, Szalasi and more were all bitter veterans who gave us yet another war. As I have mentioned many times before, I try to keep these thoughts, these days of remembrance and these lessons learned alive. Because until this day we still see the urge of knowledge and information that make us understand situations in Russia and the Krim, why people in Belgian cities like Eupen and Malmedy speak German or why Hitler talked about Sudeten Deutsche.

I sincerely hope that I gave you all a good reason to look forward to the WWI Anniversary that starts this year, so that a couple of minutes of silence will mean the world to the fallen heroes. 

Thus endeth the lesson!