The Great War

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The Great War At 11 p.m. on 4th August 1914 Great Britain found herself at war in Europe. Four years and three months later before dawn on 11th November, 1918, British soldiers recaptured the Belgian town of Mons. On this same day an Armistice was signed at 5 a.m. in a railway carriage in the Forest of Compiègne in Northern France and hostilities ceased six hours later at eleven o'clock. During the War's early years Britain and her Allies, France and Russia, fought against Germany and Austro-Hungary. At the War's end many more countries were involved, including; the United States, Turkey, Japan, Italy. What had started over the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the decaying Austro-Hungarian Empire, in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo on 28th June 1914 only concluded after the deaths of tens of millions of soldiers and civilians. The empires of Germany, Austro-Hungary, Turkey, and Russia had disappeared, countries had lost land or gained land, new counties were created (for example, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia), and new threatening political systems had taken over, or were about to take over in Russia and Germany respectively. The Great War was radically different from wars fought in the past. Fighting, between volunteer or conscripted soldiers in trenches separated by no-man's-land from their enemy in similar trenches, continued all year; and new, improved methods of killing had evolved such that the scale of injury and death was beyond that which any person had believed possible. With industrialization in Europe, invention and greatly enhanced mass-production manufacturing techniques gave rise to plentiful supplies of poisonous gases, tanks, powerful explosives, flame-throwers, hand-grenades, fighter and bomber aircraft, and, above all, machine-guns, and accurate long-range artillery. Killing was on a gargantuan scale, and Generals who developed their new strategy of "attrition" forgot surprise and inventiveness. Especially on the Western Front, where all too often only minimal ground was lost or won, battles for months, and casualties were of hundreds and thousands. Britain's war was centered on the Western Front. This was an intricate system of trenches, which ran from the Belgium coast, through northern France, to the German border. The British section probably extended for about 75 miles. Not all this length was involved in battle all the time, though even quiet parts suffered not infrequently from shelling, and trench raids. One area, however, did suffer from continuous, unremitting warfare; this was the area, which stretched around the Belgium town of Ypres.

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