May 3rd 1915: ‘In Flanders Fields’ written
On this day in 1915, Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae wrote the famous war poem ‘In Flanders Fields’. He wrote it sitting in an ambulance after presiding over the funeral of his friend who had died at the Second Battle of Ypres. Originally he was not happy with his poem, but once it was published it became very popular, and still is today considered one of the great poems of the First World War. Its references to red poppies growing over the graves of soldiers led to the use of the poppy as a symbol of remembrance for fallen soldiers.
“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.”
July 1st 1916: Battle of the Somme begins
On this day in 1916 during World War One, the Battle of the Somme began. On the first day alone there were 60,000 British casualties, and there were over a million from all sides by the end of the battle in November. It was one of the bloodiest campaigns of the war, and is remembered for its attritional nature and seemingly fruitless losses.
May 7th 1915: RMS Lusitania sunk
On this day in 1915 during World War One, German submarine U-20 torpedoed and sank the British RMS Lusitania, killing 1,198 including 128 Americans. Public outcry in the United States turned many people against the Germans, thus contributing to America’s entry into World War One. The ship was supposedly targeted for its cargo which included ammunition and war supplies. US President Woodrow Wilson was initially reluctant to over-react but America eventually did enter the war on the Allied side in 1917.
On this day in 1920, the Treaty of Versailles officially came into effect, thus ending the First World War. The treaty officially ended the war between Germany and the Allied Powers which included Great Britain, France and Russia. It was signed on June 28th 1919, which was five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand which sparked the war. Whilst fighting ended with the armistice signed on November 11th 1918, the negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference were not completed until 1919.
The Treaty set up a ‘League of Nations’ which was to be a group of countries dedicated to the preservation of global peace. The Treaty’s provisions included that Germany must accept responsibility for the war, get rid of its arms, lose its colonies, make territoral concessions and pay reparations (132 billion Marks, equivalent to US $442 billion and UK £217 billion today). These reparations were not paid off until October 4th 2010.
The effect of the treaty on Germany fostered animosity in Germany, and Adolf Hitler rose to power on his promise to make their country strong again. Therefore the Treaty of Versailles, whilst ending World War One, led to World War Two.
November 11th 1918: WW1 armistice
On this day in 1918, Germany signs an armistice agreement with the Allied powers, thus officially ending combat in the First World War. The agreement was signed on a train in France. Fighting ended at 11am, as it was the eleventh hour in the eleventh month on the eleventh day. This marked Allied victory in the war that had raged since 1914. The war officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919. Every year the Commonwealth nations commemorate the fallen soldiers in Remembrance Day, and hold a two minute silence in their honour. Other nations around the world have similar days of remembrance for the around 10 million soldiers who died in the conflict.
Lest we forget
June 28th 1914: Franz Ferdinand assassinated
On this day in 1914, Archduke of Austria and heir to the throne Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were assassinated in Sarajevo. He was killed by Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip. An attempt to blow up his car failed earlier in the day and his assassins had given up until Princip saw his car later in the day and shot the two. His death triggered a chain of events which led to the First World War. Austria-Hungary, in retaliation, declared war on Serbia. This led to the Central Powers (including Germany) joining on Austria’s side, and the Allied powers like Britain and France joining on Serbia’s side. On this day 5 years later in 1919, the Treaty of Versailles was signed in Paris, thus officially ending the First World War.
“Don’t die darling, live for our children”
- His dying words to his wife
March 3rd 1918: Treaty of Brest-Litovsk signed
On this day in 1918 the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which ended Russia’s involvement in World War One, was signed by Russia and the Central Powers. Ending the war was one of the main aims of the new Soviet government after its successful seizure of power in the October Revolution. Leon Trotsky, as Commissar of Foreign Affairs, was vital to the negotiations of the peace. There were splits over the treaty within the ruling Bolshevik party between its leader Vladimir Lenin (who was in favour) and other senior figures (who wanted to continue the war to wait for revolutions in countries including Germany and Turkey). The first proposed treaty conceded huge portions of the former Russian Empire to Germany and the Ottoman Empire, which angered conservatives and nationalists and Trotsky refused to sign it. However the pressure to end the war heightened, the Bolsheviks signed the treaty and ceded much territory to Germany. Thus the treaty led to the independence of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Belarus, Ukraine and Lithuania. The treaty angered many conservatives in Russia, and contributed to the Russian Civil War (1917 - 1923) between the Bolshevik Red Army and the anti-Bolshevik White Army.