One hundred years after the start of the Great War, none of the participants remain alive, and we are left with aging relics, fading photographs, scarred landscapes being reclaimed by nature, and memorials and graveyards across the globe.
This is a precious article written by Alan Taylor and originally published in “The Atlantic” on June 29, 2014. This entry is part 10 of a 10-part series on World War I. Click the direct link (highlighted at left) to review Alan’s entire 10 part masterpiece.
Yesterday, June 28, 2014, marked the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Assassin Gavrilo Princip fired the first shot in what was to become a horrific years-long bloodbath. However, after the sound of gunfire was silenced on Armistice Day, the deaths continued to mount. Revolutions spawned in Russia and Germany, arbitrary redrawing of national borders set the stage for decades of conflict, harsh reparation demands inspired the rise of Nazi Germany and the onset of World War II. The first World War continues to kill to this day – just this past March, two Belgian construction workers were killed when they encountered an unexploded shell buried for a century. Bomb disposal units in France and Belgium dispose of tons of discovered shells every year. Though the events of World War I have now fallen out of living memory, the remnants remain — scarred landscapes, thousands of memorials, artifacts preserved in museums, photographs, and the stories passed down through the years — stories of such tremendous loss. On this 100-year anniversary, I’ve gathered photographs of the Great War from dozens of collections, some digitized for the first time, to try to tell the story of the conflict, those caught up in it, and how much it affected the world.
Tree limbs surround the World War One Canadian Memorial, also known as the ‘Brooding Soldier’ in St. Julien, Belgium on March 7, 2014. The statue is a memorial to the Canadian troops who died in the first gas attacks of the First World War in 1915.(AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
Sheep graze in an area still dangerous from unexploded World War One munitions at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial on March 26, 2014 in Vimy, France. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
Crosses stand at the WWI Douaumont ossuary near Verdun, France, on March 4, 2014. (Reuters/Vincent Kessler)
A Verdun battlefield that still bears the scars of shell impact craters, photographed in 2005.
A bomb-disposal expert displays unexploded British grenades recovered outside Courcelette, the scene of a WWI battlefield in the Somme, on March 12, 2014. Every year farmers unearth several tons of shells, shrapnel, gas shells, unexploded grenades, called “engins de mort” (weapons of death), that bomb-disposal experts of Amiens remove and destroy. (Reuters/Pascal Rossignol)
A sculpture by German artist Kathe Kollwitz, titled “The Mourning Parents” at the World War I Vladslo German Cemetery in Vladslo, Belgium, on May 8, 2014. The cemetery contains the graves of over 25,000 German soldiers. The artists son, Peter Kollwitz, who was killed in the war when he was only 18 years old is buried in a grave in front of the statue. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
Members of German World War One historical association sit on the remains of a French 155mm long-range cannon at the wiped-out village of Bezonvaux, near Verdun, eastern France, March 29, 2014. Members of French and German historical associations, who gather annually, together visited the battlefield of Verdun in France, the site of a bloody World War One battle that dragged on for around 10 months in 1916, claiming hundreds of thousands of lives and destroying many villages. (Reuters/Charles Platiau)
Lloyd Brown, a 104-year-old World War I veteran takes a moment to pause as he remembers being in the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard with his ship the day WW I ended, at his home in Charlotte Hall, Maryland, on November 9, 2005. Brown remembered Armistice Day in 1918 as few, ever so few, veterans can. “For the servicemen there were lots of hugs and kisses,” he recalls Brown, a teenage seaman aboard the battleship USS New Hampshire when the fighting stopped. “We were so happy that the war was over.” Brown added, “There’s not too many of us around any more.” An estimated 2 million Americans served in Europe after the U.S. entered the war in 1917. Lloyd Brown passed away in April of 2007, at the age of 105. (AP Photo/Chris Gardner)
The HMS Caroline rests in Alexandra Dock in Belfast, Northern Ireland on January 29, 2013. A National Heritage Memorial Fund grant will go towards urgent preventative work to secure the Caroline. Built by Cammell Laird at Birkenhead in 1914 she was part of the 4th Light Cruiser Squadron which saw action in the Battle of Jutland in 1916 and is the last surviving Royal Navy ship from that period still afloat. At the time of her decommissioning in 2011, she was the second oldest ship still in Royal Navy service, HMS Victory Nelson’s flagship preserved at Portsmouth, being the oldest. Caroline was converted into a depot and training ship for The Royal Navy Reserve in Alexandra Dock in Belfast in later years. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
A diver from the bomb-disposal unit holds an unexploded shell recovered in a river in Cappy, close to WWI battlefields, March 19, 2014.(Reuters/Pascal Rossignol)
A member Commonwealth War Graves Commission displays a maple leaf, an army jacket emblem, found on the remains of a Canadian soldier by archaeologists in the city of Sancourt near Cambrai in northern France, on June 9, 2008. The soldier, who participated in the battle of Cambrai, fought from September to October 1918, was part of the 78th Winnipeg Battalion of Manitoba, part of the 4th Canadian Division. (Reuters/Pascal Rossignol)
Trees stand where the village of Fleury once stood, near Verdun, on March 5, 2014. A hundred years after the guns fell silent in World War One, nine villages wiped out by fighting on France’s bloodiest battleground continue to lead a ghostly existence. Their names still appear on maps and in government records. Mayors representing them are designated by local authorities. But most of the streets, shops, houses and people who once lived around the French army stronghold of Verdun are gone. (Reuters/Vincent Kessler)
Watches found with the remains of French WW1 soldiers, on June 3, 2013 in Verdun, France. At least 26 bodies of French soldiers were found in the cellar of a farm in the totally destroyed village of Fleury-devant-Douaumont. Seven were identified by their military identification plate. (Jean-Christophe Verhaegen/AFP/Getty Images)
A man looks at the names of the missing on the Thiepval Memorial in Arras, France, on November 4, 2008. The Commonwealth War Grave Commission manages 956 cemeteries in Belguim and France, which bear witness to the heavy human sacrifice made on the Western Front during the First World War (1914-1918) and Second World War (1939-1945). (Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
Archeological workers unearth a British WWI Mark IV tank in Flesquieres, near Cambrai in northern France, on November 19, 1998. British troops abandoned the tank on November 20, 1917, and German troops then buried it and used it as a bunker.(AP Photo/Michel Spingler)
The battlefield of the Somme contains many cemeteries – Beaumont-Hamel (front), Redan Ridge Cemetery No.2 (R) and Redan Ridge Cemetery No. 3 (top) on March 27, 2014 in Beaumont-Hamel, France. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
Gas masks from World War I at the new exhibition “1914 – In the Middle of Europe” at the Ruhr museum in the former coking plant Zollverein in Essen, Germany, on May 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
Red poppies bloom in a field in Peutie, Belgium, on June 3, 2014. The red poppy was one of the first flowers to bloom in the churned up soils of World War I, and was soon widely accepted throughout the allied nations as the flower of remembrance to be worn on Armistice Day. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
Unexploded shells are lined up along a wall awaiting removal by bomb-disposal experts after a French farmer found them while plowing his fields near the Courcelette British cemetery, the scene of a WWI battlefield in the Somme, on March 12, 2014.(Reuters/Pascal Rossignol)
The casket of US Army Corporal Frank Buckles lies in honor at the Memorial Chapel at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, March 15, 2011. Buckles, the last American veteran of World War I, died February 27, 2011 at the age of 110. He served in the Army from 1917, at the age of 16, until being discharged in 1920. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)
A sculpture of a Caribou looks out over the trenches of the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial in Beaumont-Hamel, France, on March 27, 2014. The preserved battlefield park encompasses the grounds on which the Newfoundland Regiment made their unsuccessful attack on July 1, 1916 during the first day of the Battle of the Somme. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
A digital sonar image of the contours of a sunken German World War I submarine on the bottom of the North Sea. The sunken wreck of the U-106 has been discovered off the island of Terschelling, an island in the Wadden Sea off the northern Netherlands, and will become an official war grave, the Dutch Defense Ministry announced Wednesday, March 16, 2011. It sank in 1917 after hitting a mine with the loss of all 41 crew. (AP Photo/Dutch Defense Ministry)
Members of the bomb disposal unit lower a large unexploded shell in a sand bed onto their truck, at a construction site in Ypres, Northwestern Belgium, on January 9, 2014. According to the Belgian Defense Department, two construction workers were killed on Wednesday, March 19, 2014, when they encountered the armament in a construction zone. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe, file)
Inside view of a WWI trench at Massiges, northeastern France, on March 28, 2014. During the war, the battlefield between the Champagne and Argonne fronts was taken and lost several times by French and German troops between September 1914 and September 1915. During trench restoration works, in the last two years, the Main de Massiges Association has found seven bodies of WWI soldiers.(Reuters/Charles Platiau)
At the Franco-Swiss Border in Pfetterhouse, rusting WWI barbed wire sits near the kilometer zero (zero mile marker) of the WWI front line, on September 5, 2013. The front started at the Swiss border and was 750 km long to the North sea.(Sebastien Bozon/AFP/Getty Images)
Archeologists in the city of Arras in northern France discovered the intact remains of 24 British servicemen who were buried in 1917 during World War I. The discovery of the skeletons, which lay side by side with their army boots still intact had evidence they were from the same town. They were unearthed during the excavations for a new BMW plant at the end of May 2001. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission who took possession of the remains, identified 20 of the soldiers who were buried together to be from the 10th Lincoln Battalion. Three others, found in a nearby shell hole, were from the Marine Infantry and one other was found buried alone.(Reuters)
A monument to local men who were killed during World War I, photographed on June 24, 2014 in Wildenroth, Germany. Villages across southern Germany usually have a small monument to men killed while serving in the German army during World War I, and the listed names often number into the dozens or even hundreds even in villages with small populations. (Philipp Guelland/Getty Images)
A road sign that reads “main street” stands in what used to be the village of Bezonvaux near Verdun, on March 4, 2014. A hundred years after the guns fell silent in World War One, nine villages wiped out by fighting on France’s bloodiest battleground continue to lead a ghostly existence. Their names still appear on maps and in government records. Mayors representing them are designated by local authorities. But most of the streets, shops, houses and people who once lived around the French army stronghold of Verdun are gone.(Reuters/Vincent Kessler)
Vera Sandercock holds a picture of her father, Private Herbert Medlend, who served in the First World War in the ‘doubly thankful’ village of Herodsfoot, England, on April 4, 2014. There are 13 villages in England and Wales where everyone who left to fight in World War One and World War Two returned home safely. These fortuitous communities are known as ‘doubly thankful’ villages.(Reuters/Darren Staples)
A visitor walks towards the Canadian National Vimy Memorial on March 26, 2014 in Vimy, France. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
Divers explore inside a ship in Burra Sound, in the Orkney Islands, Scotland, on May 8, 2014. During both World Wars, Scapa Flow was an important British naval base, and the site of significant loss of life. Following the end of World War One, 74 German warships were interned there, and on June 21, 1919 most were deliberately sunk, or scuttled, at the orders of German Rear Admiral Ludwig Von Reuter, who mistakenly thought that the Armistice had broken down and wanted to prevent the British from using the ships. Now Scapa Flow is a popular site for divers, who explore the few wrecks that still remain at the bottom. (Reuters/Nigel Roddis)
Remains of unidentified soldiers at the ossuary of Douaumont, eastern France, on February 9, 2014. The ossuary holds the remains of 130,000 unidentified French and German soldiers who died in the battle of Verdun. (Jean-Christophe Verhaegen/AFP/Getty Images)
A statue depicting a Poilu (French soldier in World War I), silhouetted in front of the sky on a war monument, in Cappy, Northern France, on November 6, 2013. (Reuters/Pascal Rossignol)
Red poppies bloom on the walls of preserved World War I trenches in Diksmuide, Belgium, on June 17, 2014. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
A pair of shoes, believed to belong to a British soldier, have been excavated from a trench dated from the World War I near the Belgian city of Ypres on the Western Front November 10, 2003. Belgian archaeologists, aided by British military experts, found remains of soldiers as well as weapons and other objects in what was considered to be the first professional exploration of a battlefield in the region. (Reuters/Thierry Roge)
Varlet farm owner Charlotte Cardoen-Descamps points out different types of World War I shells that were found on her farm in just a single season in Poelkapelle, Belgium, on May 4, 2007. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
A foot of a German soldier killed in a French attack in the First World War lying in a Kilian underground shelter, at the Sundgaufront on the Lerchenberg in Carspach near Altkirch, France, uncovered by employees of the Alsatian archaeological service (PAIR), on October 12, 2011. Remains of German soldiers were found, who were buried alive after a huge Allied shell exploded above the tunnel in an attack on March 18, 1918. The men belonged to the 6th Company of the Reserve Infantry Regiment 94 and were until now considered missing in action. (AP Photo/dapd/Winfried Rothermel)
An aerial view shows Canadian National Vimy Memorial on Vimy Ridge, northern France March 20, 2014, the scars of craters and trenches still visible. This memorial site is dedicated to the memory of Canadian Expeditionary Force members killed during the First World War.(Reuters/Pascal Rossignol)
A cross stands on the edge of the Lochnagar Crater on March 28, 2014 in La Boisselle, France. The crater was made when an enormous mine was detonated on the first day of the Somme offensive during World War One. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
Tombs at the Nolette Chinese Cemetery, the burial place of some 850 Chinese workers who died during World War I, in Noyelles-sur-Mer, northern France, on August 1, 2013. (Philippe Huguen/AFP/Getty Images)
An aerial view of the Franco-British memorial in Thiepval, northern France, on April 12, 2014. At 45 meters high, this is the largest British war memorial in the World, over 72,205 names of missing soldiers of the First World War, are engraved in the stone pillars.(Reuters/Pascal Rossignol)
A man dressed in uniform holds an order of service during the funeral of Harry Patch, outside Wells Cathedral, in western England August 6, 2009. Thousands of people attended the funeral on Thursday of “Last Tommy”, Briton Harry Patch, who was the last surviving veteran of the World War One trenches until his death at the age of 111. (Reuters/Stefan Wermuth)
A member of the ONF (Office National des Forets) looks at an unexploded shell in a forest in Vaux-devant-Damloup, near Verdun, on March 24, 2014. In the forest of Verdun, full of this kind of vestiges of the First World War, the former battlefield attracts thieves, to the chagrin of the authorities and archaeologists. (Jean-Christophe Verhaegen/AFP/Getty Images)
Torchlights are placed next to soldiers’ tombs at the Douaumont boneyard, eastern France, during the annual event known as The Four Days of Verdun, a night parade of veterans, as they commemorate the Verdun battle 98th anniversary.(Frederick Florin/AFP/Getty Images)
Participants stand near the Sydney Cenotaph at the conclusion of the Remembrance Day service in Sydney, Australia on November 11, 2010. (Greg Wood/AFP/Getty Images)
If you are interested in more information about World War I, Mr. Taylor’s 10-part series is for you. Go back to the top of this article and click the highlighted hyperlink for access.
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Excellent! I’ve learned so much about the war. Thank you! Please provide more stories.
Great article and pictures. Thanks so much.
God Bless our ancestors! Welcome home Marty!
I have a great uncle, Dennis Liddane, who died in France while serving with the 82nd All American Division in Oct 1918. Dennis emigrated to the USA from County Clare in Ireland in 1912. Dennis is buried at the Meuse Argonne American Cemetery in Northern France near the Belgium border. My first cousins in Ireland have visited his grave in 2010. I have made up a memorial plaque to Dennis with his medals and other memorabilia, and sent it to the County Clare Museum in Ennis, County Clare in 2013. I am a Viet Nam Veteran.
Very compelling. I’m a Vietnam Vet-Army medic. Both of my grandfathers were in the trenches in WWI-one British and the other German. My dad was British Army WWII . Taken POW at Tobruk and spent two years 10 months in POW camps in Italy and Germany. Few of us can appreciate the immensity of destruction of those wars. Strange how looking at these scenes 100 years after the event adds perspective.
God bless them! Welcome home Charles!