First World War

Passchendaele: the foulness of their fate

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The battle which came to be known as Passchendaele took place in Belgium in the second half of 1917. Steve Guy describes the horror faced by soldiers crawling through mud that had become like quicksand.

At the south east corner of the town of Ypres stands the Menin Gate, a vaulted arch mausoleum built of red brick and Portland stone and opened in 1927. It is a memorial to the missing British and Commonwealth soldiers from the five battles that took place in the area beyond the town during the First World War, known as the Ypres salient.

The use and abuse of the Arab Revolt

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In June 1916 thousands of Arabs rose up against the Ottoman Empire, which had ruled over the region for four centuries. They fought with the backing of the British and French governments, not realising they were being used as a weapon in the First World War, writes Simon Guy.

On 5 June 1916 the ruler of Mecca, Sharif Husayn, called for an Arab uprising against Ottoman rule. The goal, agreed with the British High Commissioner in Egypt, was to unite the Arab people, establish and then rule an independent Arab kingdom, ending 400 years of Ottoman domination of the Arab world. Britain promised funds, guns and grain in return for helping to defeat the Ottomans as part of the First World War.

Forced to fight their war

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By early 1916 a flagging British war machine had to resort to conscription to round up enough men for the trenches of Europe. Chris Fuller looks at the machinations of the politicians and the resistance they faced.

One hundred years ago the British ruling class took a desperate gamble by introducing military conscription. The move was accompanied by huge opposition from below and spurred resistance to the war.

'Damn the Dardanelles!'

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In December 1915 the evacuation of allied troops from the Dardanelles straits in the Ottoman Empire finally began. A century on Steve Guy looks at the significance of the allies' failed Gallipoli campaign.

A century ago allied troops retreated, defeated, from the shores of Turkey after the eight-month Dardanelles campaign. The allies — Britain, France and Russia — had wanted to carve up the Ottoman Empire — Turkey, the Arabian Peninsula, Mesopotamia (Iraq and Syria) and the area south of the Caucasus mountain range.

The British and French wanted Mesopotamia, which was known to be rich in oil deposits, while Russia wanted Constantinople, which would give it unfettered access to the Mediterranean.

Women and the First World War

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The position of women underwent huge change between 1914 and 1918. Jan Nielsen looks at the unintended impact of a war that, for the first time, affected every aspect of economic and social life.

During the centenary celebrations historians and commentators have made much of the effect the First World War had on the lives of women. However, most of the coverage has focused on the impact on the lives of middle class women. The recent release of the film version of Testament of Youth illustrates this clearly. Vera Brittain represents the women who volunteered in their thousands to contribute to the war effort.

Homophobia in the First World War

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The Black Book trial of 1918 exposed the extent of anti-gay feeling in a British society at war. And, writes Noel Halifax, it gave us Noel Pemberton Billing, the Nigel Farage of his day.

On 29 May 1918 a libel trial began which engrossed the nation and became the high point of the short but dramatic political career of Noel Pemberton Billing MP. Now a forgotten name in history, at the time he was the figurehead of a nasty far-right movement which had all the same features as groups in Germany that were to give birth to the Nazi party — ultra-patriotic, anti-Semitic and awash with conspiracy theories. What distinguished the British version from the German one was its obsessive homophobia.

Soldiers revolt at Christmas

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The 1914 Christmas truce has been sanitised and commercialised. But as Chris Fuller explains, the generals were terrified of where it could lead, and resolved to crush any similar fraternisation.

In November 1914 Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, asked the question, “What would happen if the armies suddenly and simultaneously went on strike?” He was soon to find out.

The revolt by soldiers on all sides of the Western Front during and after Christmas 1914 was on a huge scale and took forms that represented a fundamental challenge to the ability of the high commands to conduct the war.

For God and the Empire

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The OBE was invented as a way of tying ordinary people to a system in deep crisis, writes John Newsinger, while the man who came up with the idea was part of a cover up into the sexual abuse of children.

The Order of the British Empire (OBE) was created on 4 June 1917. Its motto was “For God and the Empire”. The year of its foundation was not coincidental — it was very much a royal response to the pressures of total war, industrial unrest and revolution.

King George V was very worried that the monarchy was under threat — something dramatic had to be done to attach “ordinary” people to a system that was founded on privilege.

From the darkness on all sides

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War trauma has been suffered by soldiers for centuries, but it took on a whole new scale during the industrialised slaughter of the First World War. Roddy Slorach exposes the callous treatment of sufferers at the hands of their "superiors".

The Great War represented industrial warfare on a previously unimaginable scale. When the fighting finally ended, 20 million soldiers and civilians were dead. More than half of the 3 million British troops who fought were deafened, blinded, lost limbs or were badly disfigured. It was “shell shock”, however, affecting much smaller numbers of troops, which became the signature injury of the war. How did this vague and inaccurate term for war trauma come to achieve such iconic status?

Suffragette who opposed World War One

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Pankhurst under arrest

When the First World War broke out leaders of the suffragette movement, Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst, supported the slaughter. But as Laura Miles and Sheila Hemingway show, Sylvia Pankhurst not only opposed the war but supported strikes and became a revolutionary socialist.

The experience of the wave of workers’ militancy before the First World War (known as the Great Unrest) and then the war itself transformed women’s rights campaigner Sylvia Pankhurst from radical suffragette to revolutionary socialist. It was a journey that would transform her politics, and relationships with her mother and sisters.

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