The Great War - A brief look
How to “summarise” such an event? A war that reshaped the global view of war itself in such a way that it took the apocalyptic event of World War 2 in order to mask it to merely being named “World War 1.”
For the United Kingdom, as with all countries, the Great War was a shock to the system. Outdated tactics and mentalities met with technology that had outpaced it, resulting in massacres unlike anything that had ever been seen before. For the UK in particular, the Great War was a time when they had to rise to the occasion in ways that humanity never had done before. Thus, it resulted in what could be thought of as the beginning of modern war itself. A birth that was bathed in fire and death, set to create many “firsts” that even today are still with us.
When the immensely convoluted alliance system broke into a colossal war, the UK was brought in on the side of France. This resulted in a shocking change to match the scale required. For the first time in its history, the UK introduced forced conscription in 1916 after two years of war led them to require it. Yet also, it even formed the largest volunteer army in global history until that point in Kitcheners Army, consisting of two million men. It saw the first declaring of “total war” in the UK and the first bombardments of British cities. Life would never be the same, war had come to the home front. A foreshadowing of the devastation that would follow in a few decades time…
Yet as one of the world’s major powers, the British rose to the occasion splendidly. The British Expeditionary Force was first deployed, consisting of 400,000 men and they met with early success. The legendary “Mad Minute” became known here when their accurate and rapid rifle fire led many Germans to believe they were being shot at by entire squads of machine guns.Even as trench warfare bogged down and every country involved engaged in pointless mass rushes, the UK did not sit idle. Beginning with ‘Little Willie’, the UK brought the very first tanks to the warfield with the Mk1 Heavy taking the lead. The first tank battles were fought by the Mk4’s (with success to the British) and the tales of these rhomboid juggernauts rolling across ‘no-mans land’ fill history books as much for their terror inducing presence as their almost laughable reliability. (Not that any country’s tanks were any better at the time)
Furthermore, the formation of the Royal Air Force formed, the first independent air force in the world’s history. The very first fighter aircraft also took flight, the Vickers F.B.5. While not exactly impressive in a combat role, it was the world’s first step to the air-dominance of the modern world. Not to be forgotten was the understated role of the Royal Navy in its blockades and first encounters with submarines as we know them today.
The Great War was many things to the UK in particular. It was the point when they reminded the world that, man for man, they were still a leading force. It was a point for their innovation to shine through in tanks and fighters. It was to show they had the determination and grit to hang on through years of horror.
Yet at the same time…the Great War can also be traced to the ‘beginning of the end’ for the British Empire and Commonwealth as it was known then. The war cast major financial woes on the UK, especially in the aftermath when they turned from the largest investor in the world to one of its largest debtors. Innumerable men lay dead in bloody wartorn fields as a result of backward tactics and pointless intent. More men died in the Somme than in any other single point in British military history and in a frighteningly short time. They had shown the world their value, but they were not exempt from the same faults shown by every single nation that had engaged in this thoroughly pointless war.
Yet as a legacy, it has left us with a beginning point for the things we so look to today. Much of that legacy falls to the feet of the United Kingdom, its population and its inventors.
However, at the feet of none more so than the young men (and surprisingly large number of women) sent to those nightmarish fields.
We will remember them