The ‘to­tal war’ comes to an end

Manjimup-Bridgetown Times - - Time Life - David Bai­ley

It was called ‘The War to End All Wars’. It did not. They said it would all be over by Christ­mas of 1914. It was not. As we look back over more than 100 years to the be­gin­ning of World War I, the world may ap­pear a dif­fer­ent place and time from where we are now. It was, how­ever, by the end of that con­flict very dif­fer­ent in 1918, from how it was in 1914.

Em­pires fell, old coun­tries ceased to ex­ist, new states and borders came into be­ing. So­cially, cul­tur­ally and po­lit­i­cally the world was changed for- ever. All that in just over four years.

It was not just the car­nage in­flicted on the bat­tle­field, but the mil­i­tary ac­tion used to ter­rorise civil­ian pop­u­la­tions that made this war dif­fer­ent from what had gone be­fore.

It was the ad­vances in the weapon, med­i­cal, trans­port and lo­gis­tics sys­tems and changes to the home front mark­ing this con­flict as a "to­tal war" as the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion had to sup­port their armies and gov­ern­ments never like be­fore with ra­tioning and dra­co­nian leg­is­la­tion be­ing used by their lead­ers to con­trol me­dia and so­ci­ety.

The war be­gan with cav­alry still be­ing seen as a main­stay of the com­bat­ant na­tions and apart from great use in the Mid­dle East, in truth they were, along with the tac­tics used in their de­ploy­ment, old, per­haps years be­fore the war be­gan.

Bat­tle­field tac­tics used un­til halfway through the war would see one side pound the other with ar­tillery then send troops across the open ar­eas of no-man’s land with ter­ri­ble con­se­quences, as the side dug-in they were able to spray their lethal lead ac­cu­rately over a dis­tance of more than 1km.

A fact not of­ten men­tioned saw France lose 27,000 dead in one day at the Bat­tle of Charleroi on Au­gust 22, 1914, just weeks into the war.

The open­ing day of the Bat­tle of the Somme, July 1, 1916, saw the British army suf­fer an as­tound­ing al­most 20,000 dead and 40,000 wounded and most of that is thought to have oc­curred within the first few hours.

A proud British of­fi­cer scrib­bled in his di­ary “What a glo­ri­ous day”.

This sort of loses made civil­ians and gov­ern­ments ques­tion their gen­er­als.

An en­tire gen­er­a­tion from the coun­tries tak­ing part in the con­flict was dec­i­mated.

In Aus­tralia, we were a small na­tion of just less than five mil­lion, and yet we fielded an army that dwarfs the size of our cur­rent armed forces. We were the only coun­try to go through the war with­out con­scrip­tion – twice it was re­jected in ref­er­en­dums in 1916 and 1917.

More than 400,000 signed up to take part in the con­flict, with losses of al­most 62,000 and more than 156,000 wounded, gassed or cap­tured.

A look at a sol­diers’ records in the na­tional ar­chives will re­veal on av­er­age most com­bat­ants were wounded or hos­pi­talised at least twice if not three times dur­ing their ser­vice.

There was not a fam­ily or com­mu­nity that was not af­fected by the war, from our big cities to the most iso­lated com­mu­ni­ties across this vast con­ti­nent.

We started the war in 1914 with zero bud­get deficit and by the end of that con­flict we owed our cred­i­tors more than $7 bil­lion by to­day's stan­dard and did not stop pay­ing that debt un­til the 1970s.

On the home front when World War I be­gan, it was un­com­mon for many women to have jobs, apart from do­mes­tic serv­ing roles. The num­ber of women work­ing out­side the home did in­crease slightly dur­ing the war but mostly in food, cloth­ing, and print­ing in­dus­try jobs that were al­ready es­tab­lished as fe­male roles.

Women had to work harder than ever on farms when the men were away and if their hus­bands were killed or wounded they strug­gled to hold on to their liveli­hoods.

When the men did re­turn, some not un­til 1920, they came home to a dif­fer­ent world, one many could not un­der­stand and a pop­u­la­tion who could not com­pre­hend what those men had seen and done.

The fig­ures for deaths and in­juries do not take into ac­count the lot of the sur­vivors, half of whom were deemed to be med­i­cally un­fit and were dis­charged.

Of those who did not get dis­charged more than 60 per cent ap­plied for a pen­sion: four out of five men were dam­aged or dis­abled in some way.

The vet­er­ans of World War I were ex­pected to come home and pick up their lives where they left them, for most this was im­pos­si­ble.

It is thought that more than 500 men took their own lives in the years 1919 and 1920, a fig­ure higher than this coun­try’s death toll in the Viet­nam War 50 years later. Even then, it took us more than two decades to start help­ing the men and women who suf­ferer to this day with men­tal health is­sues.

But in 1918 psy­chi­a­try was some­thing the rich dab­bled with, for many of the dig­gers who came home com­fort and so­lace was found at the bot­tom of a bot­tle. Lest We For­get.

Pic­ture cour­tesy Aus­tralian War Memo­rial

Oc­to­ber 1918: Aus­tralian sol­diers cap­ture Da­m­as­cus in Syria with Gen­eral Harry Clau­vel lead­ing the Light Horse dur­ing WWI.

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