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“Good-morning, good-morning!” the General said
When we met him last week on our way to the line.
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of 
em dead,
And we
re cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
s a cheery old card,” grunted Harry to Jack
As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.

But he did for them both by his plan of attack.

The General, by Siegfried Sasoon

“KITCHENER’S ARMIES”:Your King and Country need you: a call to arms” was a recruiting poster published on the 11th August 1914.  It explained the new terms of service and called for 100,000 men to enlist, a figure that was achieved within two weeks.  Army Order 324, dated 21st August 1914, then specified that six new Divisions would be created from units formed of these volunteers, collectively called Kitchener’s Army or K1.  It also detailed how the new infantry battalions would be given numbers consecutive to the existing battalions of their regiment, but with the addition of the word ‘Service’ after the unit number.


On the 28th August 1914, Kitchener asked for a further 100,000 volunteers.  Army Order 382, issued on the 11th September 1914, specified an additional six Divisions, which were to be called K2.  They were organised on the same basis as K1, and came under War Office control.  A third 100,000 recruits followed and were placed into another six Divisions, called K3, to be organised on the same basis as K1 and K2 under War Office control.  Enough men came forward not only to fill the ranks of K3, but to form reserves, which were initially formed up into the six Divisions of K4.

GENERAL PLUMER: of squat figure and ruddy countenance, with monocle and white moustache, the appearance of Field Marshal Herbert Charles Onslow Plumer, 1st Viscount Plumer, GCB, GCMG, GCVO, GBE (1857-1932) − as he later became − sometimes caused amusement, but it belied one of the most effective and successful First World War generals.

Plumer was a meticulous planner, cautious and impossible to fluster.  He won an overwhelming victory over the German Army at the Battle of Messines in June 1917, which he followed with further victories at the battles of the Menin Road Ridge, of Polygon Wood and of Broodseinde.  Plumer later commanded the Second Army during the German Spring Offensive and the Allied Hundred Days Offensive in the final stages of the war.

ARMY HIERARCHY: the following hierarchy, by which the British Army was organised and controlled at the time of the Great War is not exhaustive, but is sufficient to cover the terminology used in the accompanying biographical notes.

PLATOON: each battalion (see below) was divided into four companies (see below).  A company consisted of four platoons, each of about 50 men, under a Lieutenant or Second-Lieutenant, assisted by a Sergeant.  Within a platoon were four sections of 12 men.  A crucial part of the platoon officer’s job was to care for the welfare of his men, even down to inspecting their feet daily for signs of trench foot.

COMPANY: a military unit, typically consisting of 80–250 soldiers and usually commanded by a major or a captain.  Most companies were formed from four platoons named alphabetically A through D.

BATTALION: a military unit typically commanded by a lieutenant colonel and consisting of 1,000 men divided into four companies plus a machine gun section.  In addition to consisting of sufficient personnel and equipment to perform significant operations, as well as a limited self-contained administrative and logistics capability, the commander was provided with a full-time staff whose function was to coordinate current operations and plan future operations.

REGIMENT: during peacetime is the key administrative component of the British Army and the largest permanent organisational unitIt is typically commanded by a colonel and divided into two or more battalions, which during war do not necessarily fight together.

BRIGADE: a major tactical military formation typically comprising three to six battalions plus supporting elements and commanded by a Brigadier.  Two or more brigades may constitute a division.

DIVISION: a large military unit or formation, usually commanded by a major-general and consisting of between 10,000 and 20,000 soldiers.  Infantry divisions during the World Wars ranged between 10,000 and 30,000 in nominal strength comprising several regiments or brigades possessing a range of specialities − Headquarters staff; Infantry; Artillery; Ammunition column; Engineers; Signals; Medical; Logistics and Cavalry.

CORPS: in military terminology a corps (not to be confused with military units that had ‘corps’ in their title, such as Royal Army Medical Corps) was an operational formation, usually commanded by a lieutenant-general, consisting of two or more divisions. When the British Army was expanded from an expeditionary force in the First World War, corps were created to manage the large numbers of divisions.

ARMY: a field army (or numbered army, or simply army) is a military formation in many armed forces, composed of two or more corps and may be subordinate to an army group usually commanded by a general.  A field army is composed typically of 100,000 to 150,000 troops.

SERVICE BATTALIONS: in August 1914 Lord Kitchener called for more men to fight, and by September half a million men had enlisted.  Known at the time as Kitchener’s Army, the new army consisted of over 500 battalions.  They were numbered consecutively after the existing battalions of their regiment and were distinguished by the word “service”, this indicating that they were intended to serve only for the duration of the war.

MACHINE GUN CORPS: at the outbreak of war, each infantry battalion and cavalry regiment had a machine gun section equipped with just two guns served by a subaltern and 12 men.  Battle experience soon revealed that to be fully effective machine guns needed to be used in larger units crewed by men who were thoroughly conversant with their weapons and who understood how they should be deployed for maximum effect.  To achieve this the MGC was formed, with Infantry, Cavalry, and Motor branches, followed in 1916 by a Heavy Branch.  The Infantry Branch was by far the largest and was formed by the transfer of battalion machine gun sections to the MGC, these sections being grouped into Brigade Machine Gun Companies with three per division, later increased to four.
In 1914, machine gun sections were equipped with Maxim guns, by then obsolete.  Shortly after the formation of the MGC, the Maxim guns were replaced by the Vickers, which became a standard gun for the next five decades.  The Vickers machine gun is fired from a tripod and is cooled by water held in a jacket around the barrel.  The gun weighed 28½ pounds, the water another 10 and the tripod weighed 20 pounds.  Bullets were assembled into a canvas belt, which held 250 rounds and would last 30 seconds at the maximum rate of fire of 500 rounds per minute.  Two men were required to carry the equipment and two the ammunition.  A Vickers machine gun team also had two spare men.

Vickers machine gun with ammunition and water-cooling.

In its short history − it was disbanded in 1922 − the MGC gained an enviable record for heroism as a front line fighting force, but had a less enviable record for its casualty rate.  Some 170,500 officers and men served, with 62,049 becoming casualties, including 12,498 killed, earning it the nickname “the Suicide Club.”
LEWIS GUN: a First World War-era shoulder-held air-cooled light machine gun of US design that was perfected and mass-produced in the United Kingdom.  It was widely used during both world wars – as an aircraft machine gun almost always with the cooling shroud removed – and served until the end of the Korean War.

The Lewis weighed 26 pounds and loaded with a circular magazine containing 47 rounds. The rate of fire was 500–600 rounds per minute in short bursts.  The weapon was carried and fired by one man, but he needed another to carry and load the magazines.  Cartridge (British) .303; Rate of fire 500–600 rounds/min; Effective firing range 880 yards.

Above: the Lewis light machine gun: Below, Lewis Limber.

SPECIAL RESERVES: the Reserve Forces Act (1907) was intended to provide a well-trained reserve for the Regular Army that was capable of providing individual reinforcements or drafts at short notice as well as an efficient and cost effective Home Defence organisation.  Before the introduction of the Reserve Forces Act, Home Defence was the responsibility of the Volunteer Battalions and the Yeomanry and the Reinforcement of the Regular Army was the responsibility of the Militia.  Thus, the Special Reserves was a form of part-time soldiering in which men would enlist for 6 years.  Their service began with six months full-time training (paid the same as a regular) after which they received 3 to 4 weeks training per year.


FIELD MARSHALL ALLENBY (1st Viscount Allenby, 1861–1936): fought in the Second Boer War and in the First World War.  After periods in command of the British cavalry and the 5th Corps, he became commander of the 3rd Army in October 1915 and was prominently engaged at the Battle of Arras (9th April-16th May 1917), following which he was transferred to Egypt.  Although Allenby regarded this transfer as a badge of failure, his service in the Middle East was to prove most distinguished.  In June 1917 he took command of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, in which the strength of his personality lifted moral (Montgomery’s arrival in the Western Desert was later to have the same effect on his force).  After careful preparation and reorganization he won a decisive victory over the Turks at Gaza, which led to the capture of Jerusalem on the 9th December 1917.  Further advances were checked by calls from France for his troops, but after receiving reinforcements, he won a decisive victory at Megiddo on the 19th September 1918, which, followed by his capture of Damascus and Aleppo, ended Ottoman power in Syria.

Allenby’s success in these campaigns was attributable partly to his skilful and innovative use of cavalry and other mobile forces in positional warfare.  Overall, his defeat of the Ottomans more than redeemed any reputational setback he suffered in France.

THE BATTLE OF THE BOAR’S HEAD: an attack on the 30th June 1916 at Richebourg-l’Avoué in France.  Troops of the British 39th Division of the XI Corps in the First Army, advanced to capture the Boar’s Head, a salient held by the German 6th Army.  Two battalions of the 116th Brigade, with one battalion providing carrying parties, attacked the German front position before dawn on the 30th June.  The British took and held the German front line trench and the second trench for several hours before retiring, having lost 850–1,366 casualties.  In fewer than five hours the three Southdowns battalions of the Royal Sussex Regiment lost 17 officers and 349 men killed, including 12 sets of brothers, three from one family.  A further 1,000 men were wounded or taken prisoner.  In the regimental history it is known as “The Day Sussex Died”.
CARRYING PARTIES: carried forward ammunition, equipment, food etc. from the rear area to the front lines.  Providing carrying parties seems to have been a fate allotted to new battalions arriving in France and at the front for the first time.  It was part of the process of acclimatising them to the front lines.  Carrying parties could also be detailed as an integral part of attacking waves, bringing up stores and ammunition, further defence stores for holding newly won ground or trenches (wire, pickets, sandbags, revetting material, duckboards and A-Frames) and assisting with the carriage of machine guns and trench mortars.
YEOMANRY: is a designation used by a number of units or sub-units of the British Army Reserve, descended from volunteer cavalry regiments.  On the eve of World War I there were 55 Yeomanry regiments (with two more formed in August 1914), each of four squadrons instead of the three of the regular cavalry.  Upon embodiment these regiments were either brought together to form mounted brigades or allocated as divisional cavalry.  For purposes of recruitment and administration the Yeomanry were linked to specific counties or regions, identified in the regimental title.  Some of the units still in existence in 1914 dated back to those created in the 1790s while others had been created during a period of expansion following on the Boer War.
THE TERRITORIAL FORCE (TF): was originally formed by the Secretary of State for War, Richard Burdon Haldane, following the enactment of the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act (1907).  This combined and re-organised the old Volunteer Force with the Yeomanry.  As part of the same process, remaining units of militia were converted to the Special Reserve. [Note]  The TF was formed on the 1st April 1908.  It comprised fourteen infantry divisions and fourteen mounted yeomanry brigades, with an overall strength of approximately 269,000.  The first fully Territorial division to join the fighting on the Western Front was the 46th (North Midland) Division in March 1915, with divisions later serving in Gallipoli and elsewhere.  As the war progressed, and casualties mounted, the distinctive character of territorial units was diluted by the inclusion of conscript and New Army drafts.  Following the Armistice all units of the Territorial Force were gradually disbanded.  New recruiting started in early 1920, and the Territorial Force was reconstituted on the 7th February 1920.  On the 1st October 1920, the Territorial Force was renamed the Territorial Army.


Field Marshall Sir John French, pictured August 1915.

THE HOHENZOLLERN REDOUBT: a defensive labyrinth of trenches and machine-gun posts, it protected an important German artillery observation point known as Fosse 8, and was considered to be one of the strongest positions on the entire Western Front in 1915.  Named after the House of Hohenzollern, the redoubt was fought over by German and British forces.  Engagements took place from the Battle of Loos (25th September–14th October 1915) to the beginning of the Battle of the Somme on the 1st July 1916.  On the 13th October 1915, during the Battle of Loos, the 46th North Midland Division undertook the main assault on the Hohenzollern Redoubt, resulting in 3,643 casualties within the first ten minutes of action.  The British Official History of the war calls the attack “nothing but the useless slaughter of infantry”.

FIELD MARSHALL SIR JOHN FRENCH, 1st EARL OF YPRES (1852-1925): following a varied and distinguished career, which included the Sudan Campaign of 1884-85 and notable service as a cavalry officer in the Boer War, French was promoted to Field Marshal in 1913.  From 1912 to 1913 he served as Chief of the Imperial General Staff.

French was appointed Commander of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) at the start of World War I.  When the line stabilized in 1915, a series of stalled BEF offensives led to doubts about his competence.  Criticized for his indecisiveness with reserve forces at the Battle of Loos, French resigned his post in late 1915.  He was created a viscount in 1916 and an earl in 1922, serving as Commander in Chief of the British home forces and then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland during those later years.

Despite recent attempts to give French’s strategic thought some coherency, historians judge him unfit to have commanded at the highest level.

Field Marshall Haig in 1924.

FIELD MARSHALL DOUGLAS HAIG, 1st EARL HAIG (1861–1928): commanded the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) on the Western Front from late 1915 until the end of the war.  He was commander during the Battle of the Somme – the battle with one of the highest casualties in British military history – the Third Battle of Ypres, and the Hundred Days Offensive, which led to the armistice of the 11th November 1918.

Although he gained a favourable reputation during the immediate post-war years, since the 1960s he became an object of criticism for his leadership during the First World War, during which the forces under his command sustained two million casualties.  The Canadian War Museum comments, “His epic but costly offensives at the Somme (1916) and Passchendaele (1917) have become nearly synonymous with the carnage and futility of First World War battles.”  However, more recently historians have argued that this criticism failed to recognise the adoption of new tactics and technologies by forces under his command, the important role played by British forces in the Allied victory of 1918, and that the high casualties were a consequence of the tactical and strategic realities of the time.

Haig’s military career ended in January 1920, following which he devoted the rest of his life to the welfare of ex-servicemen.

Kaiser Wilhelm II (1859-1941)


THE BRITISH EXPEDITIONARY FORCE (BEF): was an army established by Richard Haldane, Minister for War, following the Second Boer War.  Its purpose was to ensure that Britain had a fully trained and prepared army that was able to deploy quickly to conflicts.  At the outbreak of war, the BEF comprised approximately 120,000 full time soldiers supplemented by a Special Reserve consisting of members of the territorial army.  It deployed very quickly – the first British troops arrived on the Western Front just 3 days after the declaration of war with the remainder of the force following soon after.  The BEF, together with the French army, was able to slow and then stop the German advance into France and Belgium, but at great cost.  By the end of 1914 the BEF was having to be supplemented by volunteers and recruits.

At the outset the BEF was commanded by Sir John French, but he was replaced by Sir Douglas Haig in December 1916.  By then the majority of soldiers deployed in the Western Front comprised ‘Kitchener’s Army’ recruits and conscripts, along with many soldiers from the Empire.

THE OLD CONTEMPTIBLES: although there is no documentary evidence of it, it is alleged that on the 19th August 1914, at his headquarters in Aix-la-Chapelle, Kaiser Wilhelm II gave this order: “It is my Royal and Imperial Command that you concentrate your energies, for the immediate present upon one single purpose, and that is that you address all your skill and all the valour of my soldiers to exterminate first the treacherous English; walk over General French’s contemptible little Army.” Hence the British Expeditionary Force, the B.E.F., became known as The Old Contemptibles.
THE MESSINES MINES: deep mining beneath Hill 60 began in late August 1915.  When complete, the Hill 60 mine was charged with 53,300 pounds (24,200 kg) of explosives and a branch gallery under the nearby Caterpillar took a 70,000-pound (32,000 kg) charge.  At 3:10 a.m. on the 7th June 1917 these and other mines – filled in total with 990,000 pounds (450,000 kg) of explosives – were detonated under the German lines, the blasts creating one of the largest explosions in history (reportedly heard in London and Dublin) killing some 10,000 German soldiers.  In total 19 mines were exploded over a period of 19 seconds, mimicking the effect of an earthquake and ranking among the largest non-nuclear explosions of all time.  That the detonations were not simultaneous added to the terrorising effect on German troops, as the explosions moved along the front.  An eye-witness reported:

“The artillery preparations which for days had been intense had died down and the night was comparatively quiet.  Suddenly, all hell broke loose.  It was indescribable.  In the pale light it appeared as if the whole enemy line had begun to dance, then, one after another, huge tongues of flame shot hundreds of feet into the air, followed by dense columns of smoke which flattened out at the top like gigantic mushrooms.  From some craters were discharged tremendous showers of sparks, rivalling everything ever conceived in the way of fireworks.”

HALTON PARK: at the outbreak of war the Park, on the outskirts of Wendover, was offered to the War Office by Alfred de Rothschild for use as a training camp.  The first division to arrive was the 21st Yorkshire Division, which had its divisional HQ at Aston Clinton House (demolished in the late 1950s).  Halton House was lent to the Royal Flying Corps, which, from the 1st April 1918 became the Royal Air Force.  Devastated by the carnage of the war, Alfred de Rothschild’s health began to fail and he died in 1918.  Having no legitimate children, the house was bequeathed to his nephew Lionel Nathan de Rothschild who detested the place and sold it at auction in 1918.  The house and by now diminished estate were purchased for the Royal Air Force by the Air Ministry for a bargain £115,000.
THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME: during discussions held in December 1915, the French and British committed themselves to an offensive on the Somme, an area of northern France named after the Somme river.  They agreed on a strategy of combined offensives in 1916, with initial plans calling for the French army to undertake the main part of the offensive supported on the northern flank by the Fourth Army of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF).  However, on the 21st February 1916 German Army launched the Battle of Verdun, resulting in the French diverting many of the divisions intended for the Somme to the Verdun theatre, and what in the the plan was to be a “supporting” attack by the British became the principal effort.

The Battle of the Somme was one of the most bitterly contested and costly series of battles of the First World War, lasting for nearly five months.  Despite this, it is often the first day of the battle that is most remembered, for British forces suffered 57,470 casualties (including 19,240 killed), the largest loss ever suffered by the British Army in a single day.

The offensive began on 1st July 1916 after a week-long artillery bombardment of the German lines.  Advancing British troops found that the German defences had not been destroyed as expected and many units suffered very high casualties with little progress.  The Somme became an attritional or ‘wearing-out’ battle.  On the 15th September tanks were used for the first time with some success, but they did not bring a breakthrough any closer. Operations on the River Ancre continued with some gains, but in deteriorating weather conditions major operations on the Somme ended on the 18th November.

Captain Lionel William Crouch (1886-1916)

Over the course of the 5-month battle, British forces took a strip of territory 6 miles deep by 20 miles long. But improvements were made in the use of artillery and infantry tactics, and new weapons, including tanks, began to be integrated in the British Army’s methods.
LIONEL CROUCH: son of William Crouch, a Clerk of the Peace to Buckinghamshire County Council, and Helen Marian Crouch née Sissons.  He had a younger brother Guy R. Crouch (who became a captain in the 1st Bucks Battalion of the British Army and was awarded the Military Cross) and a sister Doris.  The family home was Friarscroft in Aylesbury.

Lionel was educated at Marlborough College from 1900 to 1904.  Having qualified as a solicitor in 1909, he worked for Horwood and James in Aylesbury and was also a deputy Clerk of the Peace for Buckinghamshire.  His brother was also a solicitor, with Parrott and Coales.  A keen philatelist, Crouch was vice-president of the Junior Philatelic Society.

Captain Crouch was an officer in the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, part of the Territorial Force, before the start of the First World War.  On the outbreak of the war, in July 1914, the Territorials were mobilised and Captain Crouch left Aylesbury on the 4th August while his brother Guy and the bulk of the men left the town by rail the following day.  They arrived in Cosham for training with not a man missing which was a source of pride to Crouch.  His battalion left Chelmsford for the front on the 30th March 1915.

Lionel was shot during an attack on Pozieres on the 21st July 1916.  While being dragged back by his orderly he was hit a second time and died ten minutes later.   He is buried in Pozieres Cemetary.  His father published Lionel’s letters from the front to him privately under the title Duty and Service: letters from the front − the proceeds of the publication he donated to war charities.
MINENWERFER (“mine launcher”): is the German name for a class of short range mortars used extensively during the First World War by the German Army.  The weapons were intended to be used by engineers to clear obstacles including bunkers and barbed wire, that longer range artillery would not be able to accurately target.  It was loaded from the muzzle like a typical mortar, but did have a rifled barrel and a hydraulic recoil dampening system.
THE 1918 SPRING OFFENSIVE – a.k.a. THE LUDENDORFF OFFENSIVE (see map below): was a series of German attacks along the Western Front beginning on the 21st March 1918.  Although ultimately a failure, it was the nearest the German Army came to a decisive breakthrough on the Western Front during the entire war.

The Germans realised that their remaining chance of victory was to defeat the Allies before the overwhelming human and material resources of the United States could be fully deployed.  They also had the temporary advantage in numbers afforded by the nearly 50 divisions freed by the Russian surrender (the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk).

There were four German offensives, codenamed Michael, Georgette, Gneisenau and Blücher-Yorck Michael was the main attack, which was intended to break through the Allied lines, outflank the British forces which held the front from the Somme River to the English Channel and defeat the British Army.  Once this was achieved, it was hoped that the French would seek an armistice.  The other offensives were subsidiary to Michael and were designed to divert Allied forces from the main offensive on the Somme.

No clear objective was established before the start of the offensives and once the operations were underway, the targets of the attacks were constantly changed according to the battlefield situation.  The Allies concentrated their main forces in the essential areas (the approaches to the Channel Ports and the rail junction of Amiens), while leaving strategically worthless ground, devastated by years of combat, lightly defended.

The Germans were unable to move supplies and reinforcements fast enough to maintain their rapid advance.  The fast-moving stormtroopers leading the attack could not carry enough food and ammunition to sustain themselves for long and all the German offensives petered out, in part through lack of supplies.

By late April 1918, the danger of a German breakthrough had passed.  The German Army had suffered heavy casualties and now occupied ground of dubious value which would prove impossible to hold with such depleted units.  In August 1918, the Allies began a counter-offensive with the support of large numbers of fresh American troops, and using new artillery techniques and operational methods.  This Hundred Days Offensive [Note] resulted in the Germans retreating or being driven from all of the ground taken in the Spring Offensive, the collapse of the Hindenburg Line and the capitulation of the German Empire that November.

THE HUNDRED DAYS OFFENSIVE (see map above): was the final period of the First World War, during which the Allies launched a series of offensives against the Central Powers on the Western Front from 8th August to 11th November 1918, beginning with the Battle of Amiens.  The offensive essentially pushed the Germans out of France, forcing them to retreat beyond the Hindenburg Line and, on the 11th November, was followed by an armistice.
BITE AND HOLD: a tactic that gradually emerged from late 1915, it was designed to increase the chance of military success by aiming to achieve and then consolidate a modest objective as opposed to making a big breakthrough.  The tactic employed a concentrated artillery barrage to wreck the German trenches and fortifications followed by a rapid infantry advance under an umbrella of shellfire (see Creeping Barrage) to seize a small sector of the defences (the bite) and then hold it.  The British reserves could then be brought up under the shelter of further precision shelling to repel the inevitable German counter attack.  In this way progressive chunks of the German defences could be eroded away leading to an eventual breakthrough.
THE HINDENBURG LINE (TO THE GERMANS, THE SIEGFRIED LINE): constructed by the German army on the Western Front during the winter of 1916–1917, it eventually became a system of linked fortified areas (not a continuous line of defence) running from the North Sea to the area around Verdun in mid-France.

Faced with a substantial numerical inferiority and a dwindling firepower advantage, the new German commanders Field Marshal von Hindenburg and General Ludendorff shortened their lines (which reduced their frontage by 30 miles, releasing 10 divisions of infantrymen and 50 batteries of heavy artillery for the Reserves) and installed concrete pillboxes armed with machine guns as the start of an extended defensive system up to eight miles deep.  Based on a combination of firepower and counterattacks, the Hindenburg Line resisted all Allied attacks in 1917 and was not breached until late in 1918.
GERMAN RETREAT TO THE HINDENBURG LINE: Operation Alberich was the codename of a German Army military operation in France during 1917.  It was a planned withdrawal to new positions on the shorter, more easily defended Hindenburg Line, which took place between the 9th February and the 20th March 1917.  It eliminated the two salients which had been formed in 1916 during the Battle of the Somme, between Arras and Saint-Quentin, and from Saint-Quentin to Noyon.  The British referred to it as the German Retreat to the Hindenburg Line but the operation was a strategic withdrawal rather than a retreat.

The PH Helmet.

THE ANCRE: is a river in Picardy, France.  It rises at Miraumont, a hamlet near the town of Albert, and flows into the Somme at Corbie.
BAPAUME: in 1916 Bapaume was one of the cities considered to be strategic objectives by the allies in the framework of the Battle of the Somme.  The city was occupied by the Germans on the 26th September 1914, then by the British on the 17th March 1917.  The Germans retook the city on the 24th March 1918 during their Spring Offensive.  The Second Battle of Bapaume (21st August–3rd September 1918) was part of the second phase of the Battle of Amiens.  This British and Commonwealth attack that was the turning point of the First World War on the Western Front and the beginning of the Allies’ Hundred Days Offensive.
THE PH HELMET: was an early type of gas mask issued by the British Army for protection against chlorine, phosgene and tear gases.  Rather than having a separate filter for removing the toxic chemicals, it consisted of a gas-permeable hood worn over the head which was treated with chemicals.  The PH Helmet replaced the earlier Tube Helmet in October 1915.  Added hexamethylene tetramine greatly improved protection against phosgene and added protection against hydrocyanic acid.  Around 14 million were made and it remained in service until the end of the war by which time it was relegated to second line use.

The Small-box Respirator.

THE SMALL-BOX RESPIRATOR: introduced in 1916, it was much more sophisticated than earlier types.  It consisted of a face piece and a filter box, connected by a corrugated tube.  The small-box respirator was carried in a canvas bag, normally on the soldier’s chest.  In the event of a gas alarm, the soldier fastened the respirator against his face, leaving the filter box in the canvas bag. When the soldier inhaled, he drew air through the filter box, where it was decontaminated before passing through the corrugated tube and into the facemask.
THE CHILDERS REFORMS: restructured the infantry regiments of the British Army.  The reforms, undertaken by Secretary of State for War Hugh Childers,  were a continuation of the earlier Cardwell Reforms.  They came into effect on the 1st July 1881.

The reorganisation was brought into effect by General Order 41/1881, issued on the 1st May 1881, amended by G.O. 70/1881 dated the 1st July, which created a network of multi-battalion regiments.  In England, Wales and Scotland, each regiment was to have two regular or “line” battalions and two militia battalions.  In Ireland, there were to be two line and three militia battalions.  This was done by renaming the numbered regiments of foot and county militia regiments.  In addition the various corps of county rifle volunteers were to be designated as volunteer battalions.  Each of these regiments was linked by headquarters location and territorial name to its local “Regimental District”.
VADs: in 1909 the War Office issued the Scheme for the Organisation of Voluntary Aid.  Under this scheme the British Red Cross were given the role supporting the Territorial Forces Medical Service in the event of war.  They did this by recruiting volunteers, called “voluntary aid detachment members”, who came to be known simply as ‘VADs’ (the term also applied to voluntary aid detechments).  VADs were trained in first aid and nursing, and proved invaluable during both world wars.

THE RACE TO THE SEA: following the September battles of the Marne and Aisne, the Race to the Sea was conducted by Allied and German forces from September to November 1914.  It was the last mobile phase of the war on the Western Front and ended with the onset of trench warfare that would continue until the German Spring Offensive of March 1918.

In the Race to the Sea, both sides attempted to outflank their opponent by pressing their attacks increasingly further north in Flanders, the only flank open for manoeuvre, but all attempts were thwarted as each side dug in and prepared effective trench defences.

Once the trench lines had reached the the coast, the focus switched to the opposite direction all the way to the (neutral) Swiss border, some 400 miles in length.  Deemed something of a draw by the close of November, each side then settled down to protracted trench warfare punctuated by periodic concerted attempts (such as the Somme, the 2nd Aisne and Passchendaele) to break through the enemy line.
THE WESTERN FRONT: the main theatre of war during the First World War.  Following the outbreak of war in August 1914, the German Army opened the Western Front by invading Luxembourg and Belgium, then gaining military control of important industrial regions in France.  The tide of the advance was dramatically turned with the Battle of the Marne (6th–10th September 1914).

The Western Front in 1916.

 Following the Race to the Sea (below), both sides dug in along a meandering line of fortified trenches, stretching some 400 miles from the North Sea to the Swiss frontier with France.  Except during early 1917 and in 1918, the Western Front changed little.
CAVALRY IN THE MIDDLE EASTERN WAR: General Chauvel, Commander of the British Desert Mounted Column, and his 33,000 strong cavalry, defeated two Turkish armies from Cairo to Damascus and beyond during the Middle East War (1916-1918).  He and his horsemen then swept across the Jordan Valley and helped T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia) and company put a third Turkish army asunder.  The type of horse Chauvel used was the Waler, a term derived from New South Wales when the breed was scattered and developed all over Australia.  The Waler stood from 12 to 19 hands, usually in the range 14 to 16 hands, and weighed between 300kg and 750kg, sometimes more.  They were originally sired by English thoroughbreds from breeding mares, which were often partly draught horse, and were versatile, hardy animals that could withstand the rigours of Australia’s vast, semi-desert regions.
MALARIA: an unexpected adversary in the First World War was malaria.  It attacked all combatant armies with adverse consequences for many troops.  Statistics for British and Dominion troops serving in Egypt and Palestine in the period 1914-1918 show that out some 40,000 cases of malaria, 854 (2.13%) were fatal (Casualties and Medical Statistics of the Great War. 1931, London: HMSO).

When bitten by a malaria-infected mosquito, the parasites that cause malaria are released into the person’s blood infecting the liver cells.  The parasite reproduces in the liver cells, which then burst open to allow thousands of new parasites to enter the bloodstream and infect red blood cells.

Malaria can affect different people in different ways, and no two infections are identical.  So while malaria kills, it can cause death in different ways (and these conditions can strike in combination, further reducing the survival prospects of sufferers):

One serious condition is called cerebral malaria, caused when malaria parasites stick in the blood vessels in the brain leading to deep coma, seizures and death.  This affects really young kids the most, usually when they are still babies and is a very serious illness.

Another problem during malaria infection is severe anemia, which is due to not having enough red blood cells to carry oxygen around the body.  Malaria infection causes the destruction of red blood cells in the body, and also interferes with the body’s ability to make new red blood cells.  So the body becomes starved of oxygen which can lead to death.

Malaria infection can also damage the lungs, and cause massive breathing difficulties.  Patients affected this way often take huge deep breaths, almost like they are so hungry for air they can’t get enough in and out of their lungs fast enough.  This is called respiratory distress, and one is the worst signs for malaria patients.

It is no coincidence that both of the discoverers of the cause of malaria and the carrier of the disease were military surgeons serving in tropical countries, for armies have always been plagued by the disease.  In 1880, Charles Laveran, a French army surgeon stationed in Algeria, was the first to notice parasites in the blood of a patient suffering from malaria, but it was Ronald Ross, a British Army surgeon working in Calcutta in 1897, who discovered the role of the malaria carrying Anopheles mosquito in spreading the disease.


Charles Louis Alphonse Laveran

Sir Ronald Ross FRS

Distribution of malaria transmission in theatres of the First World War.

During the First World War the only effective treatment for malaria was the drug quinine, an extract from the bark of a South American Cinchona Tree.  Soldiers thought to be at risk in malarious countries received a systematic treatment of quinine, but the drug could have side effects such as tinnitus (a persistent ringing in the ears) which many found difficult to tolerate, whilst other distressing side effects were giddiness, blurred vision, nausea, tremors and depression.
RHEUMATIC FEVER (RF): is an inflammatory disease that can involve the heart, joints, skin, and brain.  Although its exact cause is unknown, the disease usually follows the contraction of a throat infection caused by a member of the Group A streptococcus bacteria (called strep throat).  Penicillin remains the most effective treatment for RF (although this drug was not widely available for military use until 1944).

The long-term prognosis of an RF patient depends primarily on whether he or she develops carditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) the only manifestation of RF that can have permanent effects.  Those patients with mild or no carditis have an excellent prognosis.  Those with more severe carditis have a risk of heart failure, as well as a risk of future heart problems (which today may lead to the need for valve replacement surgery).
TRENCH FOOT: is a medical condition caused by prolonged exposure of the feet to damp, unsanitary, and cold conditions.  The foot become numb, changes colour, swells and starts to smell due to damage to the skin, blood vessels and nerves.  It can take three to six months to recover fully, and prompt treatment is essential to prevent gangrene and possible foot amputation.

Trench foot can be prevented by keeping the feet clean, warm, and dry.  It was also discovered in World War I that a key preventive measure was regular foot inspections; soldiers would be paired and each made responsible for the feet of the other, and they would generally apply whale oil to prevent trench foot.  If left to their own devices, soldiers might neglect to take off their own boots and socks to dry their feet each day, but if it were the responsibility of another, this became less likely.  Later on in the war, instances of trench foot began to decrease, probably due to the introduction of the aforementioned measures; of wooden duckboards to cover the muddy, wet, cold ground of the trenches; and of the increased practice of troop rotation, which kept soldiers from prolonged time at the front.
WAR DIARY: is a regularly updated official record kept by military units of their activities during wartime.  Their purpose is to record information which can later be used by the military to improve its training and tactics as well as to generate a detailed record of units’ activities for future use by historians. 

The British Army first required its units to keep war diaries in 1907 as a means of preventing its mistakes of the Second Boer War from being repeated.  The First World War diaries − many of which are held in the National Archives and are available (for a fee) to download − contain a wealth of information that has proved of far greater interest than the army could ever have predicted.  They provide unrivalled insight into daily events on the front line, and are full of fascinating detail about the decisions that were made and the activities that resulted from them.  While war diaries focus on the administration and operations of the units they cover, they follow no absolutely consistent format.  Some record little more than daily losses and map references whilst others are more descriptive, with daily reports on operations, intelligence summaries and other material.  Diaries sometimes contain information about particular people, including acts of gallantry, but they are unit diaries, not personal diaries.  That said, officers that join or leave the unit or feature among its casualties are are usually named whereas other ranks appear as totals (e.g. 42 ORs killed).

ARTILLERY: is a class of large military weapons built to fire munitions far beyond the range and power of infantry's small arms. Artillery is arguably the most lethal form of land-based armament currently employed, and has been since at least the early Industrial Revolution. The majority of combat deaths in the Napoleonic Wars, World War I, and World War II were caused by artillery.

The Royal Regiment of Artillery, commonly referred to as the Royal Artillery (RA) and colloquially known as “The Gunners”, is the artillery arm of the British Army.  On the 1st July 1899, the Royal Artillery was divided into three groups: the Royal Horse Artillery (RHA) and Royal Field Artillery (RFA) comprised one group, while the Coastal Defence, Mountain, Siege and Heavy artillery were split off into another group named the Royal Garrison Artillery (RGA).  The third group continued to be titled simply the Royal Artillery and was responsible for ammunition storage and supply.  During the First World War there was a massive expanse in artillery, and by 1917 there were 1,769 batteries in over 400 brigades totalling 548,000 men.

An RGA battery of 9.2 inch howitzers with ammunition.

SIEGE BATTERY: the Royal Garrison Artillery (RGA) became the ‘technical’ branch of the Royal Artillery and was responsible for much of the professionalization of technical gunnery that was to occur during the First World War.  It was armed with heavy, large calibre guns and howitzers that were positioned some way behind the front line and had immense destructive power.  These sent large calibre high explosive shells in high trajectory.   The usual armaments were 6 inch, 8 inch and 9.2 inch howitzers, although some had huge railway- or road-mounted 12 inch howitzers.   As British artillery tactics developed, Siege Batteries (of the RGA) were most often employed in destroying or neutralising the enemy artillery, as well as putting destructive fire down on strong-points, dumps, store, roads and railways behind enemy lines.

Heavy and Siege Batteries were organised into Heavy Artillery Brigades, a title that was altered to Heavy Artillery Groups (HAGs) in April 1916, but reverted to Brigades in December 1917.

An RFA 18-pounder battery on the move.

The RFA, the largest branch of the artillery, provided howitzers and medium artillery near the front line.  The Ordnance QF 18-pounder (shown above), or simply 18-pounder, was the standard British field gun of the First World War-era and was produced in large numbers.  It was used by British Forces in all the main theatres.  Its calibre (84 mm) and shell weight were greater than those of the equivalent field guns in French (75 mm) and German (77 mm) service.  It was generally horse drawn until mechanisation in the 1930s.

An RHA quick-firing 13-pounder bouncing along behind its team of horses, 20th October 1918.

The RHA provided artillery support to the cavalry, the Ordnance QF (quick-firing) 13-pounder field gun being its standard equipment.  Developed in parallel with the 18-pounder used by the RFA, the 13-pounder was intended as a rapid-firing and highly-mobile yet reasonably powerful field gun for RHA batteries, which were expected to engage in mobile open warfare.  Batteries normally carried 176 rounds per gun, the gun and its filled limber (24 rounds) weighed 3668 lbs and was towed by a 6-horse team, all members of the gun detachments being mounted on their own horses.  As the war progressed, increasing air activity created a requirement for a medium anti-aircraft gun.  Some 13-pounders were slightly modified to become “Ordnance QF 13-pdr Mk III” and mounted on high-angle mounts to produce what became known as the 13 pounder 6 cwt anti-aircraft gun.

The basic unit of the Royal Artillery is the Battery.  When grouped together they formed brigades, in the same way that infantry battalions or cavalry regiments were grouped together in brigades.

At the outbreak of World War I, a field artillery brigade of headquarters (4 officers, 37 other ranks), three batteries (5 officers and 193 other ranks each) and a brigade ammunition column (4 officers and 154 other ranks) had a total strength just under 800, so was broadly comparable to an infantry battalion (just over 1,000) or a cavalry regiment (about 550). Like an infantry battalion, an artillery brigade was usually commanded by a Lieutenant-Colonel.
BARRAGE: is a particular method of delivering massed artillery fire from a few or many batteries.  It is not aimed at specific targets, but at areas in which there are known or expected targets (this contrasts with a “concentration”, in which the guns aim at a specific target in an area typically 160 to 270 yards diameter).  The barrage came to prominence from late 1915 onwards, when the British realised that the neutralising effects of artillery to provide covering fire was the key to breaking into defensive positions.

By late 1916 the “creeping barrage” was the standard means of applying artillery fire to support an infantry attack.  It was designed to place a curtain of artillery fire just ahead of advancing infantry, the barrage constantly shifting – or creeping – forward with the infantry following as closely behind as possible.  It had been found that a moving barrage of some 50 metres a minute immediately followed by the infantry assault could be far more effective than weeks of preliminary bombardment, although chiefly against sharply defined and localised targets.  However, to work properly the strategy required precise timing by both the heavy artillery and the infantry.  Failure to do so would result in the creeping barrage falling on their own soldiers, or if the barrage moved too quickly it gave the enemy time to leave their dugouts and open machine gun fire on the target they had been waiting for.  This is such an example:

At 04.38hrs the two leading companies moved forward to cross the Steenbeek. At zero hour, the artillery barrage commenced, as a creeping barrage east of the stream creeping forward at a rate of a hundred yards every five minutes. The ground covered, was in a very bad state, covered with shell holes full of foul water, making the going very tough indeed. The result was that our barrage had reached the enemies forward positions way before our leading troops had reached their objectives. The enemy opened up with heavy machine guns from their forward positions located in the blockhouses and fortified trenches. The leading company of the Bucks Battalion was almost wiped out.

From the History of the Bucks Battalion 1914-1918.

Variations upon the creeping barrage included the so-called “fire waltz” whereby a hail of artillery fire would ravage a position and move onwards, only to then reverse course in order to catch the defensive forces rushing out of their dugouts to man the line against the expected attack.
THE ROYAL AIR FORCE: the RAF was formed on the 1st April 1918 by the amalgamation of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS).  The RAF is the oldest independent air force in the world and, at that time it was formed, was also the largest.
THE ROYAL FLYING CORPS: the RFC was the air arm of the British Army before and during the war, until it merged with the Royal Naval Air Service on the 1st April 1918 to form the Royal Air Force.

During the early part of the war, the RFC supported the British Army by artillery co-operation and photographic reconnaissance, tasks that only became efficient when the use of wireless communication was perfected in 1915.  By 1918, photographic images could be taken from 15,000 feet and were interpreted by over 3,000 personnel.

Artillery co-operation and photographic reconnaissance gradually led RFC pilots into aerial battles with German pilots.  Later in the war the RFC was involved in the strafing of enemy infantry and gun emplacements, the bombing of German military airfields and, eventually, the strategic bombing of German industrial and transport facilities.

At the start of the war the RFC consisted of five squadrons – one observation balloon squadron (RFC No 1 Squadron) and four aeroplane squadrons. By the end of March 1918 it comprised some 150 squadrons.
THE ROYAL NAVAL AIR SERVICE: the RNAS was the air arm of the Royal Navy.  It came under the direction of the Admiralty’s Air Department and existed formally from the 1st July 1914 to the 1st April 1918, when it was merged with the British Army’s Royal Flying Corps to form the Royal Air Force.

Squadron Commander E. H. Dunning attempting to land his Sopwith Pup on the flying-off deck of HMS Furious, Scapa Flow, 7th August 1917.  He was killed when his aircraft veered off the flight deck and into the sea.

During its first year it continued to be the Naval Wing of the joint Royal Flying Corps (which had been set up in 1912) administered by the Admiralty’s new Air Department, but on the 1st August 1915 the RFC became the flying branch of the British Army while the RNAS became an integral part of the Royal Navy.

At the outbreak of the war the RNAS had 93 aircraft, six airships, two balloons and 727 personnel.  The Navy maintained twelve airship stations around the coast of Britain from Longside, Aberdeenshire in the northeast to Anglesey in the west.  In addition to seaplanes, carrier-borne aircraft, and other aircraft with a legitimate naval application the RNAS also maintained several crack fighter squadrons on the Western Front, as well as allocating scarce resources to an independent strategic bombing force.
THE BRISTOL FIGHTER: pictured below, was a British two-seat biplane fighter and reconnaissance aircraft developed at the Bristol Aeroplane Company.  Although intended initially as a replacement for the pre-war Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2c reconnaissance aircraft, the newly-available Rolls-Royce Falcon inline engine gave it the performance of a two-seater fighter.  The definitive F.2B version proved to be an agile aircraft that was able to hold its own against opposing single-seat fighters.  Its robust design ensured that it remained in military service into the 1930s.

Bristol Fighter.

B.E.2c: the Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2 was a British single-engine two-seat biplane in service with the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) from 1912 until the end of the war.  Designed and developed by the Royal Aircraft Factory, the majority of production aircraft were built under contract by private companies, about 3,500 being built.  Initially used as front-line reconnaissance aircraft and light bombers, variants of the type were also used as night fighters.  For want of a suitable replacement the B.E.2 remained in front-line service long after it had become obsolete.  After its belated withdrawal it then served as a trainer, communications aircraft and on anti-submarine coastal patrol duties.


The B.E.2c was a major redesign produced in greater numbers than any other of its type.  It introduced several new features to the basic design to allow the crew’s full attention to be devoted to reconnaissance duties.  It used the same fuselage as the B.E.2b, but was otherwise a new type, being fitted with new wings of different plan form, increased dihedral, and forward stagger, ailerons replacing the wing warping of the earlier models.  The tailplane was also completely new and a triangular fin was fitted to the rudder; on later machines this was enlarged to reduce a tendency to swing on takeoff and to improve spin recovery.  Relatively large orders were placed for the new version, with deliveries of production aircraft starting in December 1914.  During 1915 this model replaced the early B.E.2s in the squadrons in France.

The B.E.2 has always been the subject of a good deal of controversy.  While it proved fundamentally unsuited to air-to-air combat it had a relatively low accident rate, and its high degree of inherent stability actually proved helpful in its artillery observation and aerial photography duties, although this made it more difficult to manoeuvre quickly.
BASE HOSPITALS: of which there were two types, known as Stationary and General Hospitals.  They were large facilities, often centred on some pre-war buildings such as seaside hotels.  The hospitals grew hugely in number and scale throughout the war.  Most of the hospitals moved very rarely until the larger movements of the armies in 1918.  Some hospitals moved into the Rhine bridgehead in Germany and many were operating in France well into 1919.  Most hospitals were assisted by voluntary organisations, most notably the British Red Cross.
CASUALTY CLEARING STATION (CSS): the CSS were part of the casualty evacuation chain, further back from the front line than the Aid Posts and Field Ambulances.  It was manned by troops of the Royal Army Medical Corps, with attached Royal Engineers and men of the Army Service Corps.  The job of the CCS was to treat a man sufficiently for his return to duty or, in most cases, to enable him to be evacuated to a Base Hospital.  It was not a place for a long-term stay.

2nd Australian Casualty Clearing Station at Steenwerke, November 1917.

CCSs were generally located on or near railway lines, to facilitate movement of casualties from the battlefield and on to the hospitals.  Although they were quite large, CCS’s moved quite frequently, especially in the wake of the great German attacks in the spring of 1918 and the victorious Allied advance in the summer and autumn of that year.  Many CCS moved into Belgium and Germany with the army of occupation in 1919 too.  The locations of wartime CCSs can often be identified today from the cluster of military cemeteries that surrounded them.
MINING: mining – or “tunnel warfare” – is a general name for war being conducted in tunnels and other underground cavities, while a “counter mine” is a mine dug to allow defenders to attack miners, or destroy a mine threatening their fortifications.  Due to the static nature of trench warfare this tactic saw a brief resurgence during the First World War, when army engineers attempted to break the stalemate by tunnelling under no man’s land and laying large quantities of explosives beneath the enemy’s trenches.  When it was detonated, the explosion would destroy that section of the trench. The infantry would then advance towards the enemy front-line hoping to take advantage of the confusion that followed the explosion of an underground mine. It could take as long as a year to dig a tunnel and place a mine (see Messines Mines)

German trench destroyed by the explosion of a mine in the Battle of Messines. Approximately 10,000 German troops were killed when the mines were simultaneously detonated at 3.10 a.m. on 7 June 1917.

As well as digging their own tunnels, the military engineers had to listen out for enemy tunnellers.  On occasions miners accidentally dug into the enemy’s tunnel and an underground fight then took place.  When an enemy’s tunnel was found it was usually destroyed by placing an explosive charge inside.

During the height of the underground war on the Western Front in June 1916, British tunnellers fired 101 mines, while German tunnellers fired 126.  This amounted to a total of 227 mine explosions in a single month.  Large battles, like the Somme in 1916 and Vimy Ridge in 1917, were also supported by mine explosions.


Knife rest

KNIFE REST: or “Spanish rider” is a type of wire obstacle.  In the military science of fortification, wire obstacles are defensive obstacles made from barbed wire, barbed tape or concertina wire.  They are designed to disrupt, delay and generally slow down an attacking enemy.  During the time that the attackers are slowed down by the wire obstacle (or possibly deliberately channelled into killing zones) they are easy to target with machinegun and artillery fire.  Depending on the requirements and available resources, wire obstacles may range from a simple barbed wire fence in front of a defensive position, to elaborate patterns of fences, concertinas, “dragon’s teeth” and minefields hundreds of metres thick.
PIONEERS: are soldiers employed to perform engineering and construction tasks.  Pioneers were originally part of the artillery branch of European armies.  Subsequently, they formed either part of the engineering branch, the logistic branch, or part of the infantry; or even comprised a branch in their own right such as the former Royal Pioneer Corps (now part of the Royal Logistics Corps).  Historically, the primary role of pioneer units was to assist other arms in tasks such as the construction of field fortifications, military camps, bridges and roads.  Prior to and during the First World War, pioneers were often engaged in the construction and repair of military railways.

In contrast, “Assault Pioneers ” were small units that belonged to infantry regiments.  Their role was to accompany the first wave of assaults on fortified enemy positions where they used their skills and equipment to support the attacking force in crossing and breaching the enemy’s defences.  While Assault Pioneers normally function in a specialist role, they are infantry soldiers first and are fully capable of engaging in combat as needed.
SPANISH INFLUENZA (SPANISH FLU): in the months leading up to the Armistice in November 1918 the world’s armies and navies had begun to disperse.  On their way home the demobilised troops took with them a virulent influenza virus for which the fetid, rat-rich, body-rotting trenches had provided an ideal breeding ground.  Thus, the trenches of the Western Front are believed to have been a possible sources of the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919, the most devastating epidemic in recorded world history.  It killed more people than the Great War, with estimates ranging between 20 and 40 million victims including an estimated 43,000 servicemen.  Indeed, more people died of it in a single year than in four years of the Black Death (1347 to 1351).  In the two years that Spanish Flu ravaged the world’s population, a fifth were infected.

The huge death toll was caused by an extremely high infection rate and the extreme severity of the influenza symptoms.  Once the virus was established, its symptoms could be dreadful.  In fast-progressing cases, mortality was primarily due to pneumonia; slower-progressing cases featured secondary bacterial pneumonias.  One physician wrote that patients with seemingly ordinary influenza would rapidly “develop the most viscous type of pneumonia that has ever been seen” and later, when cyanosis appeared in the patients, “it is simply a struggle for air until they suffocate.”  Another physician wrote that the influenza patients “died struggling to clear their airways of a blood-tinged froth that sometimes gushed from their nose and mouth.”  And the physicians of the time had no effective remedy.

The virus was most deadly among people aged between 20 and 40, an unusual pattern of morbidity for influenza is usually a killer of the elderly and of young children.  But the most vulnerable of all were pregnant women; of those who survived childbirth, over one-quarter lost the child.

The origin of this influenza variant is not precisely known.  Conditions in the trenches of the Western Front, mentioned above, are one possibility, but another theory attributes the origin to China where a rare genetic shift of the influenza virus occurred.
THE SINAI AND PALESTINE CAMPAIGN: (often known simply as the Palestine Campaign) of the Middle Eastern theatre was fought between the British Empire, and the Ottoman Empire (the Turkish Empire) supported by the German Empire.  The Campaign lasted from January 1915 to October 1918.  Although elements of the Ottoman Army took time to mop up, their ability to continue the war ceased with the decisive Allied victory at the Battle of Megiddo in September 1918.

The Palestine Campaign began in 1915 with an Ottoman attempt to raid the Suez Canal and ended with the Armistice of Mudros in 1918, leading to the cession of Ottoman Syria and Palestine.  The land covered by the Campaign varied widely in terms of landscape, but the most important features to affect the fighting were the narrow coastal plain from the Suez Canal area stretching northwards past Gaza and Jaffa, and the rocky heights of the two sides of the Jordan valley.

By early 1917 the Turkish forces that had been threatening Egypt were being steadily driven back across the Sinai Peninsular towards Palestine by the advancing Allies, but in March and April 1917 two Allied attacks (the first and Second Battles of Gaza) on Ottoman-held Gaza failed, resulting in trench warfare and deadlock between the opposing forces.

Lieut. General Murray, the Commander-in-Chief of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, was replaced by General Edmund Allenby, whose experience commanding mounted units in the Boer War made him place his faith in mobile warfare.  Rather than risk another failure at Gaza, Allenby planned an extraordinary strategic manoeuvre to encircle Gaza by driving deep into the desert to attack Beersheba.  Despite the risks of a long desert ride whilst low on water and supplies, the attack broke the deadlock.  With the support of Allied infantry and accurate artillery support, a daring cavalry charge by the Australian Light Horse at Beersheba had stunned the Ottoman defenders, resulting in the fall of Beersheba.  This opened the road to Jerusalem, which fell in December 1917 and led to the eventual defeat of the Ottomans.
ENTRENCHING BATTALIONS: were temporary units formed as pools of men who were all regarded as fit and ready to replace losses in fighting units at any time.  They worked under the direction of the Royal Engineers, usually repairing roads and improving defences.  Disbanded in April 1918, their troops were apportioned to infantry battalions to make good the heavy losses suffered following the German Spring Offensive.
ENFILADE and DEFILADE: are concepts in military tactics used to describe a military formation’s exposure to enemy fire.  A formation or position is “in enfilade” if weapons fire can be directed along its longest axis.  “Enfilade fire” occurs when gunfire is directed against an enfiladed formation or position (it is also known as “flanking fire”).  Strafing — or firing on targets from an aircraft — is often done with enfilade fire.

A unit or position is “in defilade” if it uses natural or artificial obstacles to shield or conceal itself from enfilade.
FLAMETHROWER (German, ‘Flammenwerfer’): a weapon first used by German troops during the trench warfare of World War I; their use greatly increased in World War II.  A portable flamethrower consists of two elements: a backpack and a gun.  The backpack element usually consists of two or three cylinders.  In a two-cylinder system, one cylinder holds compressed, inert propellant gas (usually nitrogen), and the other holds flammable liquid—typically petrol with some form of fuel thickener added to it so that it sticks to its target.  As the liquid is generally oil-based it is difficult to extinguish with water.  In use, the weapon projects a stream of flammable liquid, rather than flame, which allows bouncing the stream off walls and ceilings to project the fire into unseen spaces, such as inside bunkers or pillboxes.

German flamethrowers on the Western Front, 1917.

The flamethrower is a potent weapon with great psychological impact, inflicting a particularly horrific death.  This has led to some calls for its use to be banned.  It is primarily used against battlefield fortifications, bunkers, pill boxes and other protected emplacements.

The flamethrower was first used briefly on the 26th February 1915 against French forces outside Verdun.  It was first used in a concerted action on the 30th July 1915 against British trenches at Hooge, casualties being caused mainly by soldiers being flushed into the open and then being shot.
GENERAL SIR RICHARD HAKING:  “It was the performance of commanders such as Haking that endowed some British generals in the Great War with a notorious reputation for pernicious incompetence. Haking had a simplistic faith in all-out attack. According to Haking, even if a defending force was stronger than the unit attacking it, the attackers would win. Such absurdity during a war dominated by heavy artillery, machine-guns and barbed wire had been starkly demonstrated by mid-1916 . . . .

The Sydney Morning Herald, 19th July 2002.


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