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WW1 What soldiers had to endure with food rations

The theoretical daily rations for a British soldier were:

  • 20 ounces of bread.
  • 16 ounces of flour instead of above.
  • 3 ounces of cheese.
  • 4 ounces of jam.
  • 4 ounces of oatmeal instead of bread.
  • 1 pint of porter instead of rum.
  • 4 ounces of dried fruit instead of jam.
  • 4 ounces of butter/margarine.

This British Army issue biscuit was a key component of a soldier’s rations. The biscuits were produced under government contract by Huntley & Palmers, which in 1914 was the world’s largest biscuit manufacturer. The notoriously hard biscuits could crack teeth if not first soaked in tea or water. Tea was also part of the British soldier’s rations. It was a familiar comfort and concealed the taste of water, which was often transported to the front line in petrol tins.

An Australian NCO used to check a batch of bread before it is transferred to the bread store at an Australian Field Bakery in Rouen, France, September 1918.

Soldiers on and behind the front line ate their meals out of a British Army issue mess tin. It was an essential part of every soldier’s kit. If you lost it you had nothing to collect your food rations in.

Many soldiers said if it had not been for the Salvation Army giving them tins of corned beef they would have actually starved, as getting supplies through to the trenches was very difficult. German soldiers used to use dogs with special harnesses to carry the large tins of stew to be dished out to soldiers. as each had a tin to eat out of, whatever it was that day.

Hard tack

After the Crimean War, Army dietary reforms were undertaken. These focused on providing a high-energy diet for soldiers, but one that was often lacking in variety and sometimes almost indigestible.

Biscuits became a staple of soldiers’ diets during the Boer War (1899-1902) and were universally loathed. The notoriously hard biscuits could crack teeth if not first soaked in tea or water!

Tinned goods continued to be used to feed soldiers en masse at meal times. But the South African conflict also saw them used as ’emergency rations’, given to each soldier as part of their field kit. A typical emergency ration tin consisted of a meat ‘dinner’ in one end and cocoa in the other. It was designed to sustain a soldier for 36 hours while on active service.

By the First World War (1914-18), Army food was basic, but filling. Each soldier could expect around 4,000 calories a day, with tinned rations and hard biscuits staples once again. But their diet also included vegetables, bread and jam, and boiled plum puddings. This was all washed down by copious amounts of tea.

The mostly static nature of the war meant food supplies were generally reliable. And soldiers were able to supplement their rations with food parcels from home, with hot meals served behind the lines in canteens and kitchens, and with food obtained from local people.

Cooking in the front-line trenches was very difficult, so soldiers ate most of their rations cold. If cooking did occur, it was done on a small folding solid-fuel stove, known universally as a ‘Tommy Cooker’, that many men carried in their packs. Soldiers also cooked in pots over charcoal or wood. 

Usually, the men would create a stew by adding tinned meat and biscuits into the pot. When the food was ready, it would be dished out individually for men to eat from their mess tins.

As well as the endless supply of ‘bully beef’, soldiers grew to hate another tinned item, Maconochie’s stew. Made with beef – or gristle, more commonly – and sliced vegetables, such as turnips and carrots, Maconochie was deemed edible warmed up, but revolting served cold.

On top of his regular ration issue of food, each soldier was given an emergency ration. This comprised a tin of beef, along with some biscuits and a tin of sugar and tea. This ‘iron ration’ was only supposed to be eaten as a last resort, when normal supplies were unavailable.

Iron ration in sealed tin, 1915
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Iron ration in sealed tin, 1915

'Hands Off, Boys! Christmas Morning in the Trenches', 1915
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A food parcel from home, 1915


The British Army has long employed overseas recruits and soldiers of every faith, so its rations have had to take these factors into consideration.

The multi-faith British Indian Army also had strict dietary guidelines when it came to feeding its troops. Two cooks, or langris, were normally maintained in each company of a battalion. The composition of the company would determine if a cook was a Muslim, Sikh or Hindu, and of what caste if the latter. This ensured that the correct food was prepared for troops of different religions and in the right way.

The Army also provided stackable cooking pots for Indian soldiers for use on campaign. Each soldier could then cook their own food if necessary. For high-caste brahmins, these cooking pots were of considerable importance, since it was necessary for them to prepare their own food in order to preserve caste.


During the First World War, separate kitchens were set up so that the dietary requirements of Muslim, Sikh and Hindu soldiers were met. This happened on the Western Front, as well as back in Britain.

In particular, the Indian hospital at Brighton made an effort to cater for patients’ religious and cultural needs. Muslims and Hindus were provided with separate water supplies and nine different kitchens.

Today’s British Army rations continue this tradition and have a wide range of menus with halal and kosher options now available for soldiers.

WW1 slang terms usd by soldiers


The limited diet of the British soldier in the front line included Tickler’s Plum and Apple Jam, known as ‘pozzy’ (possibly from a South African word for ‘preserved food’), ‘biscuit’, a hard-baked bread that had seen service for many years in Britain’s armies and navies, and ‘bully beef’, whose name may have come from the French boeuf bouillé (boiled beef) or possibly from the picture of a bull’s head on many tin designs. ‘Gippo’, stew or thick gravy, probably derived from a term used in the 17th and 18th centuries to denote a kitchen servant. Rum was delivered to the front in jars labelled SRD, interpreted as ‘seldom reaches destination’.

Available behind the lines in French bars were ‘Bombardier Fritz’ (pommes de terre frites – chips) with ‘oofs’ and ‘pang’, and ‘plonk’ (vin blanc – white wine).

Experiences common to European armies at the time – poor food and the logistics of transport – provided similar terms for poor quality butter or margarine: ‘axlegrease’ and the German Wagenschmiere (wagongrease).

Soldiers grew adept at getting hold of food by various means; terms included ‘mumping’, ‘winning’, ‘cadging’, ‘humming’, ‘making’, ‘boning’, ‘souveniring’ and ‘hot-stuffing’. Some of these terms were invented at the time while others dated back centuries.


Many of the terms for weapons and artillery were remarkably similar on both sides of no man’s land, indicating a similarity of attitude, that the soldier had two enemies, the opposing forces and the war itself. Germans and British used the same terms for the German stick-grenade – a potato-masher – both sides had a ‘Black Maria’, and both sides used a German name for an aeroplane – a ‘Taube’.

Some of these terms became indelibly associated with the war: ‘whizz-bangs’ speaks explicitly of the soldier’s experience of knowing how to identify a particular kind of incoming shell, and what action might be worth taking. ‘Jack Johnson’, referencing the black heavyweight champion boxer, was for a shell which created a large amount of black smoke. ‘Moaning Minnie’ referred to the German trench mortar or Minenwerfer, the term carrying overtones of familiarity and humour.

Names for troops: ‘Tommy’ and ‘Foot Slogger’

Documentation of ‘Tommy Atkins’, the archetypical name for the British soldier, dates back to 1815. ‘Tommy’ became immortalised in the first of Rudyard Kipling’s Barrack Room Ballads, published in 1892: 

O it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, go away”;
But it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins,” when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it’s “Thank you, Mr. Atkins,” when the band begins to play.

The name ‘Tommy’ was used universally throughout the First World War, by both sides. Some correspondence to The Times in 1914 indicates that not everyone felt well-disposed towards the name. ‘An Ensign of 1848’ wrote on 23 October: ‘May I … suggest that the time has now come … to put a period to the use of the nickname ‘Tommies’? … To hear these British soldiers referred to in depreciatory patronage as ‘Tommies’ by those who stay at home … is unseemly and exasperating.’ Three days later another reader wrote that if you were to ask ‘a company of Garrison Artillery what they think of the name and of the verses in which it was first enshrined the reply was startling and anything but complimentary to the author of the verses.’ It is possible that this was a matter of opinion which differed between individuals, regiments, platoons, and any groupings of soldiers. Certainly there are clear indications of its being used by soldiers: the trench paper The Salient for Christmas 1915 advertises The Buzzer, the paper of the 49th (West Riding) Division, ‘written by Tommies for Tommies’. But many ‘Tommies’ preferred the terms PBI (poor bloody infantry) and ‘something to hang things on’, referring to the amount of kit they had to carry.

‘Foot-slogger’ – ‘Foot slogging over Belgian ways’ was noted in the article The Route March, in the 5th Gloucester Gazette 5 May 1915 – was originally ‘foot-wabler’ or foot-wobbler’ in Grose’s The Vulgar Tongue (1785), a term of contempt for the infantryman much used by the cavalry. Related names were ‘gravel-grinder’, and ‘mud-crusher’. There were similar terms in French and German, German terms being particularly graphic – Dreckfresser (mud-glutton), Kilometerfresser (kilometre-glutton), Fusslatscher (foot-shuffler), Lakenpatscher (mud-crusher). According to Partridge only the Germans were resigned to the term Kanonenfutter, ‘cannon-fodder’.[1] German soldiers also called themselves Schweissfussindianer – ‘Indians with sweaty feet’ – which had an interesting counterpart in a term for British soldiers: 1000 Worte Front-Deutsch (1925) states that after ‘Tommy’ the main German epithet for British soldiers was Fussballindianer – ‘football Indians’.

Allies and enemies

A healthy cynicism typifies the self-parody to be found in the extended ‘alternative abbreviations’ of English, such as Rob All My Comrades (RAMC, Royal Army Medical Corps) or Rotten Fiddling About (RFA, Royal Field Artillery). It had counterparts in the German Fährt Alles Kaput (Everything goes kaput) for FAK (Freiwilliges Automobil Korps, the Volunteer Automobile Corps), or Mord-Gesellschaft Klub (Murder Company Club) for MGK (Maschinen-Gewehr Kompagnie or Machine-gun Company).

For the British soldier there were several terms used to describe the soldier opposing him. Turkish soldiers were referred to as ‘Jacko’, ‘Jacky’, ‘Johnny Turk’ or simply ‘Abdul’, while Austrians, if encountered, qualified for ‘Fritz’. ‘Johnny Bulgar’ was the enemy faced in Salonika. The Portuguese were known as ‘Pork and Cheese’ and ‘Tony’, but more often as ‘Pork and Beans’, the name of a meal soldiers at the Front recognised all too well. ‘Sammy’ was used for American soldiers, who often called themselves ‘guys’; Italians were referred to as ‘Macaroni.’

The term poilu was used widely for the French soldier both amongst the French, and occasionally by their British and American allies – French soldiers themselves preferred les hommes or les bonhommes, according to Brophy and Partridge. Meaning ‘hairy’, poilu is supposed to have originated in a story by Honoré de Balzac, Le Médecin de Campagne (1834), in which a group of French soldiers are required for a deed requiring particular courage. In this story only 40 soldiers in one regiment are deemed to be assez poilu, hairy enough.

Reports of the ruthlessness of the German army in China in 1900 refer to the use of the ‘Hun’ by the German Emperor as a symbolic ideal of military force, and thus the word was in place to be applied in 1914, especially in association with concepts such as ‘atrocities’. ‘Who’s afraid of a few dashed Huns?’ shouted Francis Grenfell, just before his death in 1915 during the Second Battle of Ypres.

‘The Hun’ and ‘the Boche’ (or ‘Bosche’) stayed in use throughout the war, though Fraser and Gibbons claimed that only the Royal Flying Corps used ‘Hun’ regularly.[2] ‘The boche’ or ‘boches’ (or ‘bosch/bosches’), with or without a capital B, was a French word, which arrived through contact with French forces in 1914, and is said to have derived from French slang caboche, meaning ‘rascal’ or ‘German’, or from Alboche, a variant on Alleman. A writer in the Western Daily Press, 15 October 1915, claimed that les Alboches developed into les sales Boches (‘the dirty Boches’), which provided the word Boches.

The British also used ‘Alleyman’ adopted from the French word for German, Allemand:
‘I got up toot sweet and off I ranAnd nearly stopped a bullet from an Alleyman’. [3]

‘Fritz’ was used throughout the war. From 1917 it was the only term used by Corporal FR Ingrey, in his diary, while the variation ‘Fritzies’ was a popular term among American soldiers.[4]

By 1916 the term ‘Jerry’ was in general use. Though the Daily Express had quoted the word on 3 March 1916, on 12 September 1916 it was clearly necessary to explain it further: ‘“Jerries” – that is the “official” Irish designation of the enemy.’ By 1918 it was used frequently, as in ‘Jerry had a machine-gun on us’[5]. The term carried more familiarity and weariness than hate; in Kipling’s A Madonna of the Trenches (1923), portraying something of the reality of being shelled, the enemy is ‘Jerry’ rather than ‘the Boche’.

From 1916 the term ‘German’ was common. Battery Flashes by ‘Wagger’ (CW Langley) 1916, reports the use of ‘Germings’ for Germans, while the diary of Lieutenant AB Scott uses ‘Hun’ in 1916, ‘Boches’ and ‘Huns’ until Spring 1918, but ‘Germans’ from Summer 1918. Among American soldiers the term ‘Heinie’, from Heinz (Heinrich), was common. According to Eric Partridge, the Germans had their own names for specific branches of the armed forces: Ernst or Ernest for artillerymen, Fritz or Otto for infantryman, and Franz for an airman.[6] The helmet finally adopted by the German infantry reinforced the use of the term ‘squareheads’, which had been in use to describe German soldiers since at least 1906. On 9 October 1914 The Manchester Guardian in a discussion on German national characteristics stated that ‘It is the shortness of the German head that gets him the nickname “squarehead” in England and America and “Têtecarrée” in France. Germans themselves, by the way, say that it is the Austrian Germans who are the “squareheads”.’ But the correspondent dismissed the generalisation as unhelpful.

Cover of pamphlet 'digger dialects'. Shows outline of two soldiers.

WW1 How did the soldiers cope with being at war


Given our understanding of the horrors of war, it is often difficult to understand how men coped with life at the Front during the First World War. Many, of course, did not: it is during this period that shell shock and what we now know as post-traumatic stress disorder were first described and diagnosed . Hundreds, across all the armies involved in the war, deserted, and both sides faced large mutinies – among the French in 1917 and by the German navy in 1918, as well the Russian Revolution in 1917. But these aside, the majority of those serving followed orders and often acted with enormous courage and bravery, as well as killing their fellow men. What allowed them to do this?


The ability for both sides to place so many men in the field for so long is testament not just to the power and control the military could exert but also to the strength of belief of those involved in the fighting. It is impossible to understand how men volunteered, accepted conscription and continued to fight without taking into account their beliefs about the war.   

While individuals varied greatly, there are some common themes that run through soldiers’ diaries and letters and point to how they saw the call to arms and the nature of battle. The military was also especially interested in morale, and took pains to measure what the troops were feeling and thinking.

Many British volunteers, and later conscripts, saw the German threat as very real. Belgian soldiers were fighting for their homeland (although linguistic allegiances complicated their sympathies) and France knew it faced a repeat of the German invasion of 1870. For Austro-Hungarians, the Archduke had been assassinated, and Germans could believe that they were fighting for an equal place with the other European empires and were resisting Russian aggression. For soldiers, these patriotic notions were also mixed with other emotions, as well as a good dose of realism. Few really thought that the war would be over quickly, at least after the first few months had passed. Many served out of thought for their families and friends as much as through loyalty to their country. For others, the promise of regular pay and help for their families might have influenced their decision and motivation to serve. Later in the war, rumours of peace or victory repeatedly spread along the Fronts, giving men an illusion that the end of the conflict was near (the hope of leave also served a similar purpose).

Given the size of the army and the presence of a large number of either recent volunteers or conscripts, something about the nature of the society from which the men were drawn no doubt influenced attitudes towards military service. Britain’s high-levels of industrialisation, and workers’ adaptation to the rigours and boredom of often-harsh factory life, may have prepared men for the Front, while the social cohesion (and acceptance of paternalism) evident in British society was reflected in good officer-ranks relations. In contrast, the hierarchy and militarism of the German army and the ‘war-enthusiasm’ of many volunteers led to disillusionment and eventually radicalisation of the ranks.

Rest and recreation played some part in the resilience of British troops, who were able to enjoy some of the leisure activities they enjoyed in civilian life during regular times away from the Front: music hall, cinema and organised sports offered some form of respite.

Friends and enemies

Despite the famous (but by no means ubiquitous) truces of the first winter of the war, hatred of the enemy – and even the desire to kill – fuelled many soldiers’ ability to keep fighting. Revenge for friends and companions killed, and the experience of being shot at or bombarded, combined with pervasive propaganda and helped to instil national hatred as the war continued.

In parallel to these feelings, the military unit could provide an alternative set of communal bonds. Soldiers often wrote about their sense of comradeship and friendship with their fellow men. Many fought for each other as much as for remoter loyalties such as to king and country.

Coping with war

Men responded differently under fire. For many, the helplessness of suffering artillery bombardment was the hardest thing to deal with. Many could not stay hunkered down but could only cope with the noise and danger of death by walking around, thereby increasing their risk of becoming a casualty. Group panic could break out during an attack, as could more serious breaches of discipline, particularly when troops were especially exhausted or bore grievances against the officers. Those immediately thrown into heavy action tended to cope less well than novices who were gradually exposed to conflict.

As soldiers spent more time under fire, they tended to develop what among German troops was termed ‘Dickfelligkeit’ (‘thick-skinnedness’) and became hardened to the rigours of the Front. Veteran soldiers learned to pay attention to their environment, taking advantage of cover and working better under fire. In general, older hands did better with managing the intense feeling of terror that inflicted itself on those under fire.

Soldiers also had to cope with long stretches of anxious waiting, or even boredom, as well as responding to or participating in attacks. To counteract this, busy routines were put in place, ensuring that trenches were repaired, men supplied, and all was ready for the long, wakeful nights (daytime was usually too dangerous for major activity). Soldiers could also comfort themselves with the knowledge of the inefficiency of most First World War weaponry. Men often resorted to black or gallows humour, as well as a bitter fatalism and superstition, as a means of dealing with everyday reality; doses of rum may also have played their part in steadying nerves.

Mental breakdown

Many, of course, did not cope with the stresses of the war. This manifested itself in a number of ways, including the reporting of physical ailments, such as trench foot, which, in the British army, was tracked as a marker of morale. Recognising that a rise in certain diseases was linked to problems with morale, the British army recorded the incidence of trench foot and asked officers to produce a report if the number rose. Others responded to the strains with what was called ‘shirking’, a general lassitude and lack of aggression in combat.

Medical opinion, and the rates of psychological breakdown after returning to the field, suggested that those who temporarily left their post (that is, were convicted of the charge of ‘Absence without Leave’) were suffering from the mental effects of war.

Suicide offered another way out. It was much underreported, as at least 3,828 German soldiers killed themselves; a figure that does not reflect the numbers who simply walked into enemy fire or whose death was ambiguous.

Those that returned also had to readjust to civilian life, often during periods of great political and social upheaval. Millions also had to cope with physical trauma or the loss of family members and friends. Many men found it difficult to talk about their experiences, or found it hard to relate their sense of service with a society that increasingly came to lament the loss. The psychological consequences of the war continued to be felt for a generation or more.

Lone man sat deep inside a dug-out within a trench.

Mountain warfare in Italy WW1

The conventional idea of a First World War battlefield immediately brings to mind an endless flat waterlogged landscape criss-crossed with muddy trenches. But for many soldiers, the battlefield looked quite different: they faced not only enemy troops but also the daunting challenges of mountain warfare, dealing with high altitude, rocky slopes, snow, ice and even avalanches. In Galicia (on the border of modern day Poland and Ukraine), millions of Russian and Austro-Hungarian men fought in the Carpathian Mountains, while Russian forces were also engaged in mountain warfare against the Ottoman Empire in the Caucasus. But perhaps the best known mountain theatre in the First World War was in Italy, where from May 1915 until November 1918 Italy fought Austria-Hungary in the high Alps and Dolomites. Around 80% of the Italian Front ran through mountainous terrain, where the nature of combat was very different from that experienced in other landscapes.

New infrastructure at 2000m

The Alpine landscape was incredibly challenging: mountain peaks in the combat zone were up to 2000m above sea level, with some slopes of up to 80° steepness. Fast-flowing rivers ran through glacial troughs and there were minimal road and rail connections to the area. In order to make the landscape more suitable for warfare, intensive road-building programmes took place; both armies also had to build bridges across mountain ravines, and to construct forts, barracks and huts to serve as accommodation, as well as digging trenches (where possible) or using high explosive to create networks of underground caves and tunnels for protection, accommodation and storage. The Italians used cable cars and mules to transport food and munitions up to the mountain-top front lines – and to take the wounded back down to the plains, where hospitals were situated. 

Fighting in sub-zero temperatures

Temperatures remained below freezing for at least four months of each year and snow was a constant presence in winter, with improvised ‘snow trenches’ being used for defence. Both armies trained specialist ski units as well as equipping soldiers with ice-picks, ropes, snow suits, cold weather clothing and goggles for use on glaciers. Cold and frostbite were real problems for all men in the high Alps, especially when it came to treating the wounded, who suffered terribly from the extreme conditions. ‘Dear Brother,’ wrote an Italian infantryman in April 1916,

let me tell you that it’s nearly two months now that I have been here in the front line and we suffer so I can hardly tell you, I’m in the high Cadore if you could see the snow there is still some 8 meters of snow but now the days are beginning to improve a little we have to advance… who knows how many poor Italians will have to die because they have this passion to slaughter us like sheep.[1]

Unsurprisingly, combat was very difficult under these circumstances. Artillery could not accurately identify enemy targets due to the uneven terrain, and without effective artillery fire it was extremely difficult to launch a successful attack. Meanwhile infantrymen carrying heavy packs and weapons struggled to attack up steep slopes, since defending troops held the high ground wherever possible, placing the assailants in the face of enemy fire. Units quickly became separated as they scrambled over rough terrain, while the impact of shells exploding on the rocky surface often led to landslides and falling stones, which had devastating effects.

Specialist mountain troops

Both the Italian and the Austro-Hungarian armies had dedicated mountain troops, the Alpini and the Gebirgstruppe respectively; these expert units had special training and equipment to prepare them for service in the mountains. They were renowned for their courage and skill, fighting fiercely under the most challenging circumstances. But there were not enough of these specialists, and it would have been impossible to limit mountain operations to these troops alone. Instead the vast majority of men in both armies would have served in mountainous terrain at some stage in the war, including many – such as soldiers from southern Italy or Sicily – who had no experience of such extreme temperatures.

Brutal mountain conditions

On the Alpine front First World War soldiers endured all the strain and terror of combat with the added challenge of brutal mountain conditions. Unique solutions to the problems of fighting in the Alps were developed to try to tackle these conditions, but with only limited success. For the millions of men who served in the Italian and Austro-Hungarian armies, it was mountain warfare above all else which would come to symbolise the horrors of the First World War.

Photograph, 1916, showing members of the Italian alpine troops climbing at 3000 metres, equipped with skis and sealskin to aid movement through the snow.

WW1 Battle of the Somme

The Battle of the Somme, also known as the Somme offensive, was a battle of the First World War fought by the armies of the British Empire and French Third Republic against the German Empire. It took place between 1 July and 18 November 1916 on both sides of the upper reaches of the Somme, a river in France. The battle was intended to hasten a victory for the Allies. More than three million men fought in the battle and one million men were wounded or killed, making it one of the deadliest battles in human history.

The French and British had committed themselves to an offensive on the Somme during the Chantilly Conference in December 1915. The Allies agreed upon a strategy of combined offensives against the Central Powers in 1916 by the French, Russian, British and Italian armies, with the Somme offensive as the Franco-British contribution. Initial plans called for the French army to undertake the main part of the Somme offensive, supported on the northern flank by the Fourth Army of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). When the Imperial German Army began the Battle of Verdun on the Meuse on 21 February 1916, French commanders diverted many of the divisions intended for the Somme and the “supporting” attack by the British became the principal effort. The British troops on the Somme comprised a mixture of the remains of the pre-war army, the Territorial Force and Kitchener’s Army, a force of wartime volunteers.

On the first day on the Somme (1 July) the German 2nd Army suffered a serious defeat opposite the French Sixth Army, from Foucaucourt-en-Santerre south of the Somme to Maricourt on the north bank and by the Fourth Army from Maricourt to the vicinity of the AlbertBapaume road. The 57,470 casualties suffered by the British, including 19,240 killed, were the worst in the history of the British Army. Most of the British casualties were suffered on the front between the Albert–Bapaume road and Gommecourt to the north, which was the area where the principal German defensive effort (Schwerpunkt) was made. The battle became notable for the importance of air power and the first use of the tank in September but these were a product of new technology and exceedingly unreliable.

The Battle of the Somme lasted 141 days and was the opening day of the Battle of Albert. The attack was made by five divisions of the French Sixth Army on the east side of the Somme, eleven British divisions of the Fourth Army north of the Somme to Serre and two divisions of the Third Army opposite Gommecourt, against the German Second Army of General Fritz von Below. The German defence south of the Albert–Bapaume road mostly collapsed and the French had “complete success” on both banks of the Somme, as did the British from the army boundary at Maricourt to the Albert–Bapaume road. On the south bank the German defence was made incapable of resisting another attack and a substantial retreat began; on the north bank the abandonment of Fricourt was ordered. The defenders on the commanding ground north of the road inflicted a huge defeat on the British infantry, who had an unprecedented number of casualties. Several truces were negotiated, to recover wounded from no man’s land north of the road. The Fourth Army took 57,470 casualties, of which 19,240 men were killed, the French Sixth Army had 1,590 casualties and the German 2nd Army had 10,000–12,000 losses.

At the end of the battle, British and French forces had penetrated 6 mi (10 km) into German-occupied territory along the majority of the front, their largest territorial gain since the First Battle of the Marne in 1914. The operational objectives of the Anglo-French armies were unfulfilled, as they failed to capture Péronne and Bapaume, where the German armies maintained their positions over the winter. British attacks in the Ancre valley resumed in January 1917 and forced the Germans into local withdrawals to reserve lines in February before the scheduled retirement by about 25 mi (40 km) in Operation Alberich to the Siegfriedstellung (Hindenburg Line) in March 1917. Debate continues over the necessity and significance of the battle.

WW1 Battle of Arras in 1917

At the beginning of 1917, the British and French were still searching for a way to achieve a strategic breakthrough on the Western Front. The previous year had been marked by the costly success of the Anglo-French offensive astride the River Somme, while the French had been unable to take the initiative because of intense German pressure at Verdun until after August 1916.The battles consumed enormous quantities of resources while achieving virtually no strategic gains on the battlefield. The cost to Germany of containing the Anglo-French attacks had been enormous and given that the material preponderance of the Entente and its allies could only be expected to increase in 1917, Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg and General Erich Ludendorff decided on a defensive strategy on the Western Front for that year. This impasse reinforced the French and British commanders’ belief that to end the stalemate they needed a breakthrough; while this desire may have been the main impetus behind the offensive, the timing and location were influenced by political and tactical considerations.

The Battle of Arras (also known as the Second Battle of Arras) was a British offensive on the Western Front during the First World War. From 9 April to 16 May 1917, British troops attacked German defences near the French city of Arras on the Western Front. The British achieved the longest advance since trench warfare had begun, surpassing the record set by the French Sixth Army on 1 July 1916. The British advance slowed in the next few days and the German defence recovered. The battle became a costly stalemate for both sides and by the end of the battle, the British Third Army and the First Army had suffered about 160,000 casualties and the German 6th Army about 125,000.

For much of the war, the opposing armies on the Western Front were at stalemate, with a continuous line of trenches from the Belgian coast to the Swiss border. The Allied objective from early 1915 was to break through the German defences into the open ground beyond and engage the numerically inferior German Army (Westheer) in a war of movement. The British attack at Arras was part of the Anglo-French Nivelle Offensive, the main part of which was the Second Battle of the Aisne 50 mi (80 km) to the south. The aim of the French offensive was to break through the German defences in forty-eight hours. At Arras the Canadians were to capture Vimy Ridge, dominating the Douai Plain to the east, advance towards Cambrai and divert German reserves from the French front.

The British effort was an assault on a relatively broad front between Vimy in the north-west and Bullecourt to the south-east. After a long preparatory bombardment, the Canadian Corps of the First Army in the north fought the Battle of Vimy Ridge, capturing the ridge. The Third Army in the centre advanced astride the Scarpe River and in the south, the Fifth Army attacked the Hindenburg Line (Siegfriedstellung) but made few gains. The British armies then conducted smaller attacks to consolidate the new positions. Although these battles were generally successful in achieving limited aims, they came at considerable cost.

When the battle officially ended on 16 May, the British had made significant advances but had been unable to achieve a breakthrough. New tactics and the equipment to exploit them had been used, showing that the British had absorbed the lessons of the Battle of the Somme and could mount set-piece attacks against fortified field defences. After the Second Battle of Bullecourt (3–17 May), the Arras sector became a quiet front, that typified most of the war in the west, except for attacks on the Hindenburg Line and around Lens, culminating in the Canadian Battle of Hill 70 (15–25 August).

WW1 Gallipolli battle

This battle was fought from 15th February 1915 to 9th January 1916 on the peninsular in Turkey. The Ottoman empire was in control and Britain, France and Russia sought to weaken the control by taking control of the Turkish straits. With Turkey defeated it would make the Suez canal safe and the year round Allied supply route could be opened via the Black Sea to warm water ports in Russia.

The attempt by the allies to overcome the forces failed and a sea attempt was made in February 1915. After 8 months fighting, with approxiamatly 250,000 casualties on both sides the land campaign ended and the invasion force abandoned.It was a costly campaign on both sided with Winston Churchill heading the British involvement and their sponsership as First Lord of the Admiralty. This was considered a great victory by the Ottomans.

This led to the Turkish war of Independance which took 8 years to be successful.

Australia and New Zealand were heavily involved also in the fighting and Anzac day was established as a national holiday.

On 29 October 1914, two former German warships, the Ottoman Yavûz Sultân Selîm and Midilli, still under the command of German officers, conducted the Black Sea Raid, in which they bombarded the Russian port of Odessa and sank several ships. On 31 October, the Ottomans entered the war and began the Caucasus campaign against Russia. The British briefly bombarded forts in Gallipoli, invaded Mesopotamia and studied the possibility of forcing the Dardanelles.

The Russian cruiser Askold and the French cruiser Requin were also there. Kitchener was working on the plan as late as March 1915 and was the beginning of the British attempt to incite an Arab Revolt. The Alexandretta landing was abandoned because militarily it would have required more resources than France could allocate and politically France did not want the British operating in their sphere of influence, a position to which Britain had agreed in 1912.

By late 1914, on the Western Front, the Franco-British counter-offensive of the First Battle of the Marne had ended and the Belgians, British and French had suffered many casualties in the First Battle of Ypres in Flanders. The war of manoeuvre had ended and been replaced by trench warfare. The German Empire and Austria-Hungary closed the overland trade routes between Britain and France in the west and Russia in the east. The White Sea in the arctic north and the Sea of Okhotsk in the Far East were icebound in winter and distant from the Eastern Front; the Baltic Sea was blockaded by the Kaiserliche Marine (Imperial German Navy) and the entrance to the Black Sea through the Dardanelles was controlled by the Ottoman Empire. While the Ottomans remained neutral, supplies could still be sent to Russia through the Dardanelles but prior to the Ottoman entry into the war, the straits had been closed; in November the Ottomans began to mine the waterway.

The French Minister of Justice, Aristide Briand, proposed in November to attack the Ottoman Empire but this was rejected and an attempt by the British to bribe the Ottomans to join the Allied side also failed. Later that month, Winston ChurchillFirst Lord of the Admiralty, proposed a naval attack on the Dardanelles, based in part on erroneous reports of Ottoman troop strength. Churchill wanted to use a large number of obsolete battleships, which could not operate against the German High Seas Fleet, in a Dardanelles operation, with a small occupation force provided by the army. It was hoped that an attack on the Ottomans would also draw Bulgaria and Greece (formerly Ottoman possessions) into the war on the Allied side. On 2 January 1915, Grand Duke Nicholas of Russia appealed to Britain for assistance against the Ottomans, who were conducting the Caucasus campaign. Planning began for a naval demonstration in the Dardanelles, to divert Ottoman troops from Caucasia.

Attempt to force the Straits

On 17 February 1915, a British seaplane from HMS Ark Royal flew a reconnaissance sortie over the Straits. Two days later, the first attack on the Dardanelles began when a strong Anglo-French task force, including the British dreadnought HMS Queen Elizabeth, began a long-range bombardment of Ottoman coastal artillery batteries. The British had intended to use eight aircraft from Ark Royal to spot for the bombardment but harsh conditions rendered all but one of these, a Short Type 136, unserviceable. A period of bad weather slowed the initial phase but by 25 February the outer forts had been reduced and the entrance cleared of mines. After this, Royal Marines were landed to destroy guns at Kum Kale

also Seddülbahir, while the naval bombardment shifted to batteries between Kum Kale and Kephez.

Frustrated by the mobility of the Ottoman batteries, which evaded the Allied bombardments and threatened the minesweepers sent to clear the Straits, Churchill began pressuring the naval commander, Admiral Sackville Carden, to increase the fleet’s efforts. Carden drew up fresh plans and on 4 March sent a cable to Churchill, stating that the fleet could expect to arrive in Istanbul within 14 days. A sense of impending victory was heightened by the interception of a German wireless message that revealed the Ottoman Dardanelles forts were running out of ammunition. When the message was relayed to Carden, it was agreed the main attack would be launched on or around 17 March. Carden, suffering from stress, was placed on the sick list by the medical officer and command was taken over by Admiral John de Robeck.

18 March 1915

Panoramic view of the Allied fleet in the Dardanelles

On the morning of 18 March 1915, the Allied fleet, comprising 18 battleships with an array of cruisers and destroyers began the main attack against the narrowest point of the Dardanelles, where the straits are 1 mile (1.6 km) wide. Despite some damage to the Allied ships engaging the forts by Otterman return fire minesweepers were ordered along the straights.

In the Ottoman official account, by 2:00 p.m. “all telephone wires were cut, all communications with the forts were interrupted, some of the guns had been knocked out … in consequence the artillery fire of the defence had slackened considerably”. The French battleship Bouvet struck a mine, causing her to capsize in two minutes, with just 75 survivors out of a total crew of 718. Minesweepers, manned by civilians, retreated under Ottoman artillery fire, leaving the minefields largely intact. HMS Irresistible and HMS Inflexible struck mines and Irresistible was sunk, with most of her surviving crew rescued; Inflexible was badly damaged and withdrawn. There was confusion during the battle about the cause of the damage; some participants blamed torpedoes. HMS Ocean was sent to rescue Irresistible but was disabled from an artillery shell, struck a mine, and was evacuated, eventually sinking.

The French battleships Suffren and Gaulois sailed through a new line of mines placed secretly by the Ottoman minelayer Nusret ten days before and were also damaged. The losses forced de Robeck to sound the “general recall” to protect what remained of his force. During the planning of the campaign, naval losses had been anticipated and mainly obsolete battleships, unfit to face the German fleet, had been sent. Some of the senior naval officers like the commander of Queen Elizabeth, Commodore Roger Keyes, felt that they had come close to victory, believing that the Ottoman guns had almost run out of ammunition but the views of de Robeck, the First Sea Lord Jackie Fisher and others prevailed. Allied attempts to force the straits using naval power were terminated, due to the losses and bad weather. Planning to capture the Turkish defences by land, to open the way for the ships began. Two Allied submarines tried to traverse the Dardanelles but were lost to mines and the strong currents.

After the failure of the naval attacks, troops were assembled to eliminate the Ottoman mobile artillery, which was preventing the Allied minesweepers from clearing the way for the larger vessels. Kitchener appointed General Sir Ian Hamilton to command the 78,000 men of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (MEF). Soldiers from the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) and New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) were encamped in Egypt, undergoing training prior to being sent to France. The Australian and New Zealand troops were formed into the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC), commanded by Lieutenant GeneralSir William Birdwood, comprising the volunteer 1st Australian Division and the New Zealand and Australian Division. The ANZAC troops were joined by the regular29th Division and the Royal Naval Division. The French Corps expéditionnaire d’Orient (Orient Expeditionary Corps), initially consisting of two brigades within one division, was subsequently placed under Hamilton’s command.

Over the following month, Hamilton prepared his plan and the British and French divisions joined the Australians in Egypt. Hamilton chose to concentrate on the southern part of the Gallipoli peninsula at Cape Helles and Seddülbahir, where an unopposed landing was expected. The Allies initially discounted the fighting ability of the Ottoman soldiers. The naïveté of the Allied planners was illustrated by a leaflet that was issued to the British and Australians while they were still in Egypt,

The underestimation of Ottoman military potential stemmed from a “sense of superiority” among the Allies, because of the decline of the Ottoman Empire and its poor performance in Libya during the Italo-Turkish War of 1911–1912 and the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913. Allied intelligence failed to adequately prepare for the campaign, in some cases relying on information gained from Egyptian travel guides. The troops for the assault were loaded on transports in the order they were to disembark, causing a long delay which meant that many troops, including the French at Mudros, were forced to detour to Alexandria to embark on the ships that would take them into battle. A five-week delay until the end of April ensued, during which the Ottomans strengthened their defences on the peninsula; although bad weather during March and April might have delayed the landings anyway, preventing supply and reinforcement. Following preparations in Egypt, Hamilton and his headquarters staff arrived at Mudros on 10 April. The ANZAC Corps departed Egypt in early April and assembled on the island of Lemnos in Greece on 12 April, where a small garrison had been established in early March and practice landings were undertaken. The British 29th Division departed for Mudros on 7 April and the Royal Naval Division rehearsed on the island of Skyros, after arriving there on 17 April. That day, the British submarine HMS E15 tried to run the straits but hit a submarine net, ran aground and was shelled by a Turkish fort, killing its commander, Lieutenant Commander Theodore S. Brodie and six of his crew; the survivors were forced to surrender. The Allied fleet and British and French troops assembled at Mudros, ready for the landings but poor weather from 19 March grounded Allied aircraft for nine days and on 24 days only a partial programme of reconnaissance flights were possible.


The Allied campaign was plagued by poor planning, untrained troops, poor maps, poor intelligence, poor artillary,logistical inequalities, tactics were none existent.

Geography of the area was misunderstood so men were directed to the wrong beaches and ended up locked into a narrow area where they could not fight efficiently. The Ottomans ie the enemy could keep control of the high ground therefore giving them an advantage.

The political repercussions were substansive. Many leaders resigned in the military. Winston Churchill decided to stay and this ended in Prime Minister Asquith ending his Liberal government and creating a co alition government. Asquith was largely blamed for the problems.


Over 164,000 Ottomans killed

187,000 Allies killed

including 120,000 British killed.


Many soldiers suffered typhoid and dysentry and some died of it because of the insanitary conditions in which they were forced to live.90,000 were evacuated to hospital to Egypt and Malta. Many who died on the hospital ships were buried at sea so therefore had no grave.

There are no cemetries for the Ottoman/Turkish dead only memorials.

Only a small section of the Australian and New Zealand fighting force input in the fight, but it did place the peoples in a state of a “baptism of fire” and a hard lesson learned. 50,000 Australians and 17,000 New Zealanders.

35 World War 1 fascinating facts

Germany was famous for making bicycle tyres in that era and with the shortages of rubber because of the war, they started making small coiled springs attached to the metal frame of the wheel, so people could still use their bikes.

During WW1 France built a smaller version of Paris with no one living there to confuse the German bombers.

During the War in USA, German was the mostly spoken language which the Government suppressed because of the World War. Most of the schools, governments and newspapers operated in German.

In 1964 Germany decided to reward the East African soldiers who served with them in WW1 but because no records were kept to prove who they were they got the people to write the manual they worked by regarding weapons they used during the war. All applicants passed the test.

A Hungarian called Paul Kern was shot in WW1 in the front temporal lobe and could never fall asleep again. He lived for years unable to sleep. No one knows why this happened.

King Albert !st of Belgium fought with his troups in WW1 and his wife was a nurse during that time.

The famous comedy brothers called ‘Marx brothers’ to get out of the draft, their Mother bought a farm and got them to work on the farm. This was because farm workers and owners were exempt from the draft to fight in the war.

During the war a lone Portugese soldier covinced German soldiers he was an entire unit. He did not eat or sleep for hours

The ocean liner Olypic, sister ship to the Titanic,became the only merchant vessel in WW1 to sink an enemy warship when she sank a U boat number 103

In WW1 US navy warships painted complex geo metric stripes on battleships to confuse the enemy

16 Days before the RMS Lusitania set sail, Germany published a warning in the New York Times they would destroy any ship leaving for Britain. The warning was ignored and 1198 people drowned.

In WW1 Canadians survived the first chemical, attack by urinating on their hankerchiefs and holding it to their faces as a mask.

There was a wounded pidgeon who saved the lives of 198 soldiers in WW1

Hitler fought in WW1 and had a full moustache. He was ordered to cut it down to a toothbrush size to accommodate wearing a gas mask.

During WW2 as Hitler rose to fame he would not allow gas to be used in WW2 because of his experience with it in WW1 as a lowly soldier.He was exposed to it himself and understood the devastating effects.

Britsh armed merchant cruiser named RMS Carmania engaged and sank the merchant ship SMS Trafalger German cruiser.Ironically they had been disguised as each other.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle the writer of Sherlock Holmes tried to enlist at the start of WW1. He was 55 years old. He stated he was very robust and strong and had such a loud voice he could be heard over long distances

The Pharmaceutical company ‘Bayer’ discovered Heroin and used to use it as a cough treatment.

Over 90,000 Chinese labourers were used by British Army to dig trenches during WW1 on the Western Front.

Woodrow Wilson was the US president during WW1 and was a white supremacist and he resurected the Klu Klux Clan in 1915.

8 million horses were killed in WW1 the same as human beings

Due to steel shortages in WW1 ships were built using concrete. Only ten survive today and are based in British Columbia

Karl Von Muller was the captain of the German ship SMS Emden. He contacted an enemy merchant ship before he sunk it allowing all the passengers off with their belongings.

Because of the anti contraception laws in USA they band the use of condoms until 1972. This led to a rise in Sexually transmitted diseases among US soldiers in WW1

The deadliest non nuclear occurred in Germany killing 10 thousand people in WW1 in a mining asccident

Hugh Lofting not wishing to frighten his children about the terrible stories from WW1 wrote imaginary letters to them which later became the Dr Dolittle stories

Safety razors were invented in 18th century but Gillette arranged a deal with US Armed Forces in WW1 to provide Razors and blades to be part of the kit new soldiers were given on joining the army on his way to Europe.

WW1 planes had no guns on the planes so soldiers used to use pistols and carbines in air to air combat

Rudyard Kipling wanted his 18 year old son John to join the army. He kept being refused because he had such poor eye sight. Kipling used his connections with the Commander in Chief of the Army and his son was allowed to join and sent to war. An exploding shell ripped his face apart and he was killed.

Because metal became scarce during WW1 corsets stopped being made and bras became more popular

In WW1 hamburgers were renamed Liberty Sandwhiches to promote patriotism