Why was the war on the Western Front so dreadful for British Soldiers? Introduction: In this project, my primary focus is on answering the question ‘Why was the war on the Western Front so dreadful for British Soldiers? In my project I will discuss the New Technologies, How awful daily life was for a soldiers in the trenches, Why defending the Ypres salient was difficult, Why the battle of Somme was such a disaster and finally some research on graves I visited on the battlefields.
I will analyse sources and hopefully come to a conclusion. In addition to this, I will be making inferences and explaining how the different parts of the war were significant.
World War 1, sometimes called the Great War was centred in Europe; it began on the 28th July 1914 and lasted until November 1918. The war started because a group of young men called the Black Hand were asked to assassinate Franz Ferdinand, when they heard the archduke, the future Austria-Hungary King was coming to Sarajevo on the 28th June 1914.
From the assassination, this then made one thing lead to the other. Essentially, war broke out like this: -Serbian nationalist killed Franz Ferdinand on the 28th June 1914.
This then caused Austria-Hungary to declare war on Serbia to eliminate the nationalists. The following day 29th June 1914 Russia prepares for war on Austria-Hungary to protect its ally Serbia. On the 1st August 1914 Germany declared war on Russia to help her ally Austria-Hungary. On following day 2nd August 1914 France declares war on Germany to protect their ally Russia. Then on the 3rd August Germany declares war on France and wrongly decides to invade through Belgium.
Then on the 4th August 1914 Britain declares war on Germany to support its ally Belgium and France. It involved all the world’s greatest countries which were assembled in two opposing alliances, the allies based on the Triple Entente of the UK, France and Russia, against the central European alliance or Triple Alliance consisting of Germany, Austria Hungary and Italy. However during the war Italy changed sides to join the allies.
Originally Germany never would have thought the UK would enter the war because it was over a scrap of paper and not many countries would keep a promise over a scrap of paper and risk a lot of soldiers getting killed, however the UK kept their word and stuck to their promise of agreeing to help France and Russia in the war. How had science and technology changed the nature of warfare? In the First World War a variety of new inventions were being introduced due to the development of science and technology, therefore it had changed the nature of warfare and near enough everything about World War I.
Machine Guns The machine gun was a unique and devastatingly effective form of technology which could be fired automatically without stop until it would overheat or until it lacked ammunition. The benefits of a machine gun is that you did not need to directly and precisely aim at just one soldier, you could simply spray the weapon at vast numbers of soldiers; this was the case with advancing troops as they were just shred to bits by bullets causing mass murder. Another advantage is that it can be used at long range on scales never before seen. 0,000 men killed on one day alone at the Battle of the Somme. It stopped infantry troops to have to duck for cover where they used to line up in rows to fire, that would no longer work in the world of machine guns hence trenches were made to protect the soldiers and hold the lines. The disadvantages are that they often overheated and were heavy and hard to move. You could not pick one up alone and move it from position to position, then fire it. It took a team to do. The machine guns, used in 1914, required a crew of three to six men and were positioned on a flat trajectory tripod.
The machine gun would be well protected by sandbags all around which would provide cover for the men firing it. Early machine guns were prone to overheating which caused them to jam this was a major problem and many attempts were made to cool the gun with water jackets and other devices. This was not just a killing machine it also helped defend your area. Germany introduced the machine gun, which dealt a brutal blow on the British forces claiming over half of the causalities. When established in fixed strong points sited specifically to cover potential enemy attack routes, the machine gun proved a fearsome defensive weapon.
On the opening day of the offensive, the British suffered a record number of single day casualties, 60,000, the great majority lost under withering machine gun fire. In essence, defence was the best means of attack. The Maxim gun could fire 400-600 rounds of small-calibre ammunition per minute. Each gun had the firepower of about 100 rifles. The German Army’s Maschinengewehr and the Russian Pulemyot Maxima were both based on the same design. The American Army tended to use the Browning Machine-Gun whereas the French Army preferred the Hotchkiss. Machine-guns were positioned all along the Western Front.
For added protection, German machine-guns were often housed inside concrete blockhouses. Unfortunately for British soldiers, the Generals at the time were still convinced that charging the enemy from the front was still the best plan. This was one of the main reasons that so many soldiers died in battle – outdated tactics. This was achieved by abandoning the idea of reloading each bullet manually or of loading a short magazine that required bolt action. A British inventor, Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim, realised that by taking advantage of some of the bullets’ energy he could let the recoil force back the bolt and load the next round automatically.
In other words, what we call a machine gun. Using a long chain of bullets, and this mechanism, suddenly one soldier could fire up to 600 Rounds per Minute. This new gun meant that now a line of soldiers walking across a field could be mown down, row by row with just one gun. I have included the picture above, on the right side, because it provides us evidence of the amount of ammunition used in war, and because this was only found in one section we realise that a significant amount of ammo was used in the war while this is only evident of the small amount of ammo found.
Additionally, I have included the pictures of machine gun post and bunkers below to show how the machine guns were protected by and where they were used. These pictures are extremely reliable because of the fact that I had visited the area as well as taking the actually photograph. Machine guns made life dreadful for soldiers because they left soldiers simply sitting ducks. This is because they were incredibly at risk at being killed.
Also it was most likely and almost certain that they would get hit by machine gun fire – consequently lowering military moral as there were very few ways of getting past the machine gun posts and even if you were able to get past, it would only be by a few metres before you would be sighted and killed. Heavy Artillery Artillery was sometimes effective in WW1 but not all the time. Artillery was basically, large cannons with the capability of firing single large weight bombs into the enemy frontline from a huge distance away. All these cannons varied in shape and sizes and each used for different effects.
There were also major changes in the way normal artillery was used. Cannons used a rifled barrel to give range and accuracy, changing the glass gas bottle for little lead balls created horrific shrapnel wounds and high explosive rounds would kill anyone within 10 metres. These pictures below of shrapnel balls and unexploded artillery missiles, show the amount of artillery used but also how dangerous they are being that they haven’t exploded ever since. Personally, I was taken aback when I witnessed the pure ruthlessness of the war; the sheer number of shell holes was unbelievable.
At the time, the churned and largely disfigured battlefield would be something reminiscent of a swamp. Regrettably, this acted as yet another barrier, which played itself in a brutal way killing many more, as it would have shaped hostile conditions. The soldiers would have drowned in the mud due to the huge weight of their equipment. Staggeringly, you could still see how harshly the terrain had been penetrated. This sustained authenticity enhances your imagination of how dreadful it must have been for the soldiers on the western front.
Solely, this piece of evidence could supply historians with knowledge of how significant this aspect of the war must have been. Initially this piece of terrain may have been 3 or 4 times worse, and to think some parts can still not be passed puts the inconvenient truth into perspective. Almost a quarter of the causalities came as a result of bad terrain. Even though the terrain took a small proportion of causality’s, I still believe it is a significant factor which contributed largely to the dreadful war on the western front as it was not at all planned or anticipated.
The landscape was littered with shell craters, but the largest crater of them all that we saw on the trip was Lochnagar Crater, which was created by a 60,000lbs mine. The Lochnagar mine crater on the 1916 Somme battlefields in France is the largest man made crater created in the First World war on the Western Front. It was laid by the British Army’s 179th tunnelling company Royal engineers underneath a German strong point called “Schwaben Hohe”. The mine was exploded two minutes before 7:30 am and quite evidently had a truly catastrophic effect.
The shear depth of this crater is made evident by the warning signs which surround the crater. From the experience of being there I understood the historical significance this crater held. The fact was, this piece of territory still contained the undiscovered remains of German, French and British soldiers from the first world. They were maintaining and preserving the site by removing the rubbish and holding the structure which had been under danger before July 1978, when Richard Dunning purchased the land.
Additionally, whilst I was there I noticed a memorial which commemorates the men and women of all nations whose lives were affected by the great war of 1914 – 1918. I also understood that they were constructing a sustainable path which circled the crater. It is not only necessary to protect and preserve the crater from natural erosion from the weather but the large number of visitors, increasing year by year, also adds to the requirement for the continued provision of safe and sensitively constructed visitor access to this memorial site. 2nd Lieutenant C. A Lewis of the royal lying corps saw the explosion from the sky “the whole earth heaved and flared, a tremendous and magnificent column rose up into the sky. There was an ear splitting roar, drowning all the guns, flinging the machine sideways in repercussing air. The Earth column rose higher and higher to almost 4000 feet! ” – This is reliable evidence because he actually so the explosion occur and so we can get his point of view on how devastating the explosion was. Chemicals/Gas Poison Gas Causalities| 1914- 1918| | | Country| Non- Fatal| Deaths| Total| British Empire| 180,597| 8,109| 188,706| France| 182,000| 8,000| 190,000|
United States| 71,345| 1,462| 72,807| Italy| 55,373| 4,627| 60,000| Russia| 419,340| 56,000| 475,340| Germany| 191,000| 9,000| 200,000| Austria-Hungary| 97,000| 3,000| 100,000| Others| 9,000| 1,000| 10,000| Total| 1,205,655| 91,198| 1,296,853| The first use of gas was in august 1914, by the French who used tear gas in the form of 26mm grenades which would irritate the Germans’ eyes, though not affective. The main three Gases used in World War I were Mustard, Chlorine and Phosgene gas. As you can see from the table above, the use of gas claimed a total of 91,198 people’s life’s during the war.
Mustard Gas was the most deadly of the gases used as no gas mask could stop the gas getting inside you, although the commanders never told the troops on the frontline this. Gas was used in shells so that when the shell detonated the gas was dispersed into the air near the enemy frontline. Most victims of gas did not die in fact 1,205,655 people affected by gas did not die in the war. Originally the gas would only be used when the wind was blowing in the right direction; it would be pumped down a long tube into no-man’s land where the wind would carry it to the Allied troops.
This technique was perfected by the Germans who would use it at every opportunity. The British on the other hand, would use it when they felt like it and would therefore poison their own troops. One of the worst examples of this was in the first battle of the Somme where Phosgene gas, which is heavier than air, was pumped into the wind up a hill at the Germans; needless to say the gas came back at the British and killed almost the whole front line. The next advance in gas technology and one the British fared better at, was putting a glass bottle with the liquid gas inside an artillery shell and firing it.
Both the introduction of gas and the sudden ability to fire it from miles away meant that soldiers on both sides of the war were in trouble. These pictures of bottles show us how the gas was transported and placed in to be fired at the enemy. These pictures are very reliable as I took them myself, but also because they were found at a farm which used to be a battle ground. Gases changed the nature of war as it could be fired miles behind the frontline trenches and still have devastating effects on the enemy, without the chance of your own side being killed by it too.
Gas was never an instant killing machine, as it normally took a matter of time for it to take affect and start doing damage. Science and technology have changed the nature of warfare over the centuries, for example new weapons were created which were vital in battle, as they allowed the opposing sides to fight over greater distances, moving away from small scale hand to hand skirmishes. With the development of technology, weapons became a dominant aspect, which ultimately drove the direction of the war. Weapons were the key to victory and if you had a lot of powerful weapons you would stand a far higher possibility of winning the war.
If there were no weapons capable of firing over distances it would be almost impossible to have a world war, as you would have no machinery you would have had to fight hand to hand which would limit the size of a war. How awful was daily life for soldiers in the trenches? Life in the trenches during the First World War took many forms, and varied widely from sector to sector and from front to front. Undoubtedly, it was entirely unexpected for those eager thousands who signed up for war in August 1914. A trench is a hole in the ground designed to give its occupant protection from enemy fire.
It was meant as a defensive position but the British and Allied forces were forced to dig in themselves when they realized they could not get past the Germans quickly. Unfortunately the Germans had started their trenches first and so had the higher ground, the nicer soil and other major advantages in defending. The British were left with the sea level ground to dig their trenches in; this meant that a few feet under the surface was pure mud and water. Allied troops had to live in these conditions for years at a time; this gave rise to not only the water-Bourne diseases but also to trench foot.
This was a condition where, after a soldier had had wet feet for a couple of weeks his feet would start to rot while still attached to his body. This was a bit like gangrene and frostbite except a lot more painful because the blood had not frozen or cut off supply. Many thousands of soldiers were removed from the front line because they could no longer walk. So, although the trench was a great thing if you were the only side using it, when stuck in a stalemate with the opposition in wet, muddy conditions it could be a horrific thing for soldiers on both sides of the war.
A minor idea that made life more bearable for soldiers was duck boards. These were horizontal planks that were either on or up to one foot above the bottom of the trench (shown below). They were designed to try and keep soldiers above the level of the water and eliminate trench foot. Although a great idea the water level would consistently rise above this level, forcing soldiers into the abject misery of a flooded trench. Daily Death in the Trenches Death was a constant companion to those serving in the line, even when no raid or attack was launched or defended against.
In busy sectors the constant shellfire directed by the enemy brought random death, whether their victims were lounging in a trench or lying in a dugout. Similarly, novices were cautioned against their natural inclination to peer over the parapet of the trench into No Man’s Land. Many men died on their first day in the trenches as a consequence of a precisely aimed sniper’s bullet. It has been estimated that up to one third of Allied casualties on the Western Front were actually sustained in the trenches. Aside from enemy injuries, disease wrought a heavy toll.
There are many pictures to prove that there was death daily in the trenches, this evidence is reliable because it was taken by a real soldier and it maybe was sent in a letter, found in a dugout etc. Rat Infestation Rats in their millions infested trenches. There were two main types, the brown and the black rat. Both were despised but the brown rat was especially feared. Gorging themselves on human remains (grotesquely disfiguring them by eating their eyes and liver) they could grow to the size of a cat.
Men, exasperated and afraid of these rats (which would even scamper across their faces in the dark), would attempt to rid the trenches of them by various methods: gunfire, with the bayonet, and even by clubbing them to death. It was futile however: a single rat couple could produce up to 900 offspring in a year, spreading infection and contaminating food. The rat problem remained for the duration of the war. Rats were massive pests in World War I and were dreadful for soldiers in the trenches because they kept waking them up during the night, spreading diseases etc.
Rats were in the trenches and you can see this in the letter below written by a soldier. This evidence is very reliable because it is a real letter written by a soldier in the western front who explains his experiences of the trenches. “The rats were huge. They were so big they would eat a wounded man if he couldn’t defend himself. ” These rats became very bold and would attempt to take food from the pockets of sleeping men. Two or three rats would always be found on a dead body. They usually went for the eyes first and then they burrowed their way right into the corpse.
One soldier described finding a group of dead bodies while on patrol: “I saw some rats running from under the dead men’s greatcoats, enormous rats, fat with human flesh. My heart pounded as we edged towards one of the bodies. His helmet had rolled off. The man displayed a grimacing face, stripped of flesh; the skull bare, the eyes devoured and from the yawning mouth leapt a rat. ” The trenches were a great thing to have to cover from enemy fire but presented the soldiers living in it with hours of upkeep work every day. Allied trenches were mainly built downhill so they were in soft, wet mud.
This meant that the trench walls routinely collapsed, forcing soldiers to dig them back up, and one artillery shell could destroy five metres of trench at a time – once again forcing soldiers to spend hours of their time re-digging trenches. As well as that, the sand bags needed replacing, supplies brought from the reserve trenches through narrow, muddy communication trenches, new trenches needed digging, saps and listening posts, barbed wire replacements, digging mines under enemy positions… the list goes on of hard, repetitive tasks that were carried out on a daily basis.
Although there were many downsides to trench life there were also some benefits. For example, there was lots of time to bond with friends… fight with comrades… die with comrades… This particular positive was exploited by the British army who set up pals regiments. These were regiments from one small area in England; therefore people were more willing to sign up knowing they would be with their mates. Daily Boredom Given that each side’s front line was constantly under watch by snipers and look-outs during daylight, movement was logically restricted until night fell.
Thus, once men had concluded their assigned tasks they were free to attend to more personal matters, such as the reading and writing of letters home. Meals were also prepared. Sleep was snatched wherever possible – although it was seldom that men were allowed sufficient time to grab more than a few minutes rest before they were detailed to another task. Mud The mud didn’t help the trenches as when it rained heavily the surface was very wet so people could trip over and hurt themselves.
In the war the injuries were horrific and the treatment was limited, often the best you could do was suppressing pain and let them rest and see if they recover. There were so many deaths in the war it was unbelievable also there were so many wounded with people with their arm cut off or people with their leg cut off because they had trench foot. The picture on the right shows that even in the present day the trenches are still full of mud. Food The other complaint men had been of their rations. Basic as they were, along the route from England to Belgium people would beg, borrow or steal most of the supplies.
This meant that by the time the food got to where it was needed most – it was almost all gone. Equipment Soldiers in World War one would have a lot of valuable equipment; however it weighed quite a bit so was very heavy to carry around. Here are the equipment the soldiers used gas masks, mess tin, covered tin hat, puttees, large pack, wire cutters, entrenching tool, towel, waterproof sheet, holdall knife, fork, spoon, razor and comb. Below is a picture of a soldier also this is where all the equipment was placed in his soldier outfit.
Trench life was horrific and we witnessed this when we went on the Battlefields Trip, you could see how compacted the sides were to each other. The trenches were unbelievably small and see conditions were poor for the soldiers who lived there for four long, tiring years. I could see why all the trenches didn’t go straight as all the artillery or machine guns have to do is fire it straight, however if the trenches were not straight it would be very hard to hit them. Daily for soldiers in the trenches was so awful because of this type of illness known as shell shock.
At first these people were thought to be wimps but then they found out that it was actually an illness. It occurred when bullets constantly kept whizzing past their ears, and constant explosions. These people just became nervous wrecks and were sometimes sent home due to not being able to continue. When night-fall came, all was not quiet. Snipers often put all their fears behind them and crawled into No Man’s Land. Their mission was to try and find any sudden movements and take advantage. Many men couldn’t sleep that well due to rats, explosions, the cold or false alarms.
Many didn’t sleep any more than three to four hours. Bearing all this in mind, it would be no surprise that the life expectancy of a 2nd Lieutenant was no more than three months. You can now really start to see how the number of deaths in the trenches came about. It was not only the fighting and bullets that killed people, but the appalling living conditions as well. It is quite shocking the number of deaths due to the conditions and I know that I would hate to be one of those men fighting in the front line trenches of Europe. Why was defending the Ypres Salient so difficult?
The Belgian coast, Ypres was the meeting point of many important trade routes. During the 17th and 18th centuries, Austrians and the French occupying armies built strong walls the town and turned Ypres into a fortress. The Ypres salient was one of the worst battlefields in British military history. It was a difficult place to attack from even without the weather. The salient was a stretch of front line that stuck out like a bulge into German territory; tactically it was a bad place to be in possession of as it was a flat waste land deep in German territory.
However, the Allied soldiers had to defend Ypres to stop the Germans capturing the last city in Belgium and potentially gaining access to the channel ports, this would almost certainly mean failure for Britain because they would not be able to import enough troops or equipment to successfully defend France. As was usual in the First World War, the Germans had the higher ground and bombarded the town below. The Brits responded by shelling the Germans back. This tactic soon turned the already flooded salient into a quagmire of mud and water. In the battle of Ypres an estimated 40,000 British soldiers died in the mud and were never recovered.
The 1st Battle of Ypres, October – November 1914 The Ypres salient was home to a number of battles but there were three main battles in that area. The first was where most of the BEF and German students died. Although the BEF was a much better fighting force than the German volunteer students – sheer weight of numbers managed to inflict heavy casualties on the British. In German history this battle is often referred to as the massacre of the innocents. The Germans were so upset about the loss of these young people that the gate leading into Langemarck is dedicated to the students, all six thousand of them.
The 2nd Battle of Ypres, April-May, 1915 The second battle went down in history as the first battle in history where chemical weapons, or gas, were used. The Germans sent chlorine gas over to the French line on the 22nd April 1915. This attack was in the second battle of Ypres and sent the entire battalion scurrying. The only reason that Ypres wasn’t lost there and then was that the Germans were to slow to advance and the Canadians came in and fought viciously, using handkerchiefs soaked in urine once the worst of the gas had blown away. The ammonia in urine counteracting the gas) The 3rd Battle of Ypres, July – October 1917 (Passchendaele) The 3rd Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) is the bloodiest battle in history, British colonial troops thought in unbearable conditions to capture German position on the ridge at Passchendaele. Soon after 13 weeks, in which it rained almost the whole entire time, allied troops attempted to cross the 5 miles of muddy swamps to take the German lines. 300,000 British and 260,000 German soldiers died in the battle. Some 40,000 soldiers sank in the mud and were never recovered.
The Ypres Sailent was so hard to defend because of several reasons one of the reasons was because of the geography of the land. The area was called flanders and flanders means “flooded land”, it was once under water. Ypres key geographical features: Land: Flat, low lying Soil: Sand or silt Climate: Temperature, but very variable Rainfall: Hevy & frequent (750-1000m) Winter: Average 60 days of frost a year ; 15 of snow Natural Features: A ridge of higher land (over 40m) surronds the south and east a few miles away.
Germany had the advantage because they possessed the higherland, firmer land and where they it was easy to spy on the city were the British were staying. Also It was very easy for them to surrond the target and where the Germans were situated on high ground so it wouldn’t be waterlogged unlike the British trenches. It was hard to defend the Ypres sailent because the allied forces were surrounded in three directions and the ground was at sea level so they found water 18 inches below the ground. The water logged trenches made soldiers less moblie and increased the likely hood of trench foot as they were half submerged in water most of the day.
Ypres was so hard to defend because every thing the Allied forces did could be seen by the Germans. As the Germans could see everything the British were doing they were able to tell when an attack was coming so it was easy for the Germans to prepare for attack so the allied forces lost the sense of surprise. Why was the Battle of the Somme such a disaster? Background By December 1915, Allied milatary commanders agreed that a massive offensive – “The Big Push” – was needed to break the stalemate: of the war the Russians would attack in the East, while British and French armies would launch an offensive on the western front.
General Haig (picture on the left) wanted the big push to take place at Ypres and further down the line was the Somme and Germans were to well dug in so they didn’t want to make the big push there however in the end the big push happened at the Somme. In Febuary 1916, the Germans began an attack on Verdun , this was a clever tactic because Verdun was of great importance to the French and a sign of milatary pride. Even through Verdun was of no milatary signifacance to either side it could not be lost as it would shatter the French soldiers moral.
Therefore milatary comanders agreeded to lanch an attack on the Somme to divert French forces. The Plan The offensive of the Somme was a very inquisitive mixture of old milatary tactics and new technnology. It was decided to bombard the German lines for five days continuously, beginning on June 24th , however the event was extended for two days. An incredible one and a half million shells were prepared for the attack. The objective was to obliverate the German lines, machine gun posts and fortified villages. Everyone assumed that the Germans would be vapourised and only few would remian and it would beeasy to take the trenches.
They also believed that the barbed wire would be gone because of the artillery however it got more tangled up and harder to get through. Two minutes before the attack a series of mines under the key German positions would be detonated simulataneously. At 7:30am, artillery bombardment would lift from the German front line, and steadily creep forward across over the back lines. Soldiers thought they would walk across no mans land without obstacles or machine gun fire and take the German lines. The offensive would take place along a 20km stretch of land and Haig’s aim was to advance two and a half kilometers on the first day.
So why did it fail, here are the reasons why the plan was a failure: 1) It was hard to know if the bombardment was working due to the fact that there was poor weather conditions. 2) The early explosion of Hawton mine (at 7:20) alerted the Germans telling them that there was an attack coming. Also some of the mones did not destroy German positions as planned. 3) There were arguable reports about whether the wire had been cut. 4) Haig was being given “optimistic” reports about the attack, so the uneffective bombardment continued. Bad communication. 5) Lots of shells did not Explode.
Some German trenches were badly damaged, suffering very little casualties. German dugouts were extremly well built deep under ground so they weren’t effected. When the bombardment ended the Germans were able to get ready since they realised that the allied force were about to lanch an attack. This gave them time to get to the firesteps and set up machine gun posts. Following the plan the shelling stopped when it should have been heaviest. The bombardment turned ‘No mans land’ into a mass of mud and craters while twisting and distorting the German wire without cutting it.
When soldiers went over the top they walked incredibly close together getting mown down by machine gun fire and they were carrying packs of about 29kg as they thought they would take the trenches with ease and not have to return. Some soldiers received additional items making there packs about 40kg in weight and it was incredibly hard for them to move through thr mud. No ground was gained, the British suffered 57,000 casulaties, of whom 19,000 were killed. Despite heavy casulties the attack carried on for four months. By the end of November both sides sufferd an incredible amount of deaths.
The offensive had cost Britain 419,000 deaths, 204,000 for the French and 600,000 for the Germans, in total it added up to over 1. 2 million. In my opinion the most significant factor to why the Battle of the Somme was such a disaster was because of communication. We know that communication failed because even when they went ‘over the top’, General Haig still kept on sending them in. Now, it is important to not that there were no easy communication methods like phones, before they had messengers and so it would take days for the General to recieve it and so this lead to the deaths of many soldiers on the Wester Front.
Personal Research on the Graves and Memorials of Soldiers Personal Research on Lewis McGee Lewis McGee was an Australian recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest decoration for gallantry “in the face of the enemy” that can be awarded to members of the British and Commonwealth armed forces. He was a sergeant in the Australian Imperial Force; McGee was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions in the Battle of Broodseinde and part of the Passchendaele offensive on 4th October 1917. McGee was born in Campbell Town, Tasmania on 13 May 1888; he was the youngest of eleven children to John McGee, a labourer and farmer, and his wife Mary.
Three of McGee’s sisters had died in infancy prior to his birth, and—when Lewis was aged only seven—his mother died due to pleurisy. He gained employment as an engine driver with the Tasmanian Department of Railways. During March 1916, he joined the Australian Imperial Force for service in the First World War. He was positioned in the 40th Battalion, and completed training in Tasmania and the United Kingdom, where he was promoted to lance corporal. In November 1916 he transferred to the Western, where he promoted rapidly from corporal then sergeant, and took part in the Battle of Messines.
McGee was killed in action on 12 October 1917, eight days after his Victoria Cross exploit. McGee’s 40th Battalion were part of the third phase of the Passchendaele offensive. His battalion of the 10th Australian Brigade were detailed to execute an attack on Broodseinde Ridge. The brigade was allocated four primary objectives to seize during the assault, one for each battalion, with the 40th Battalion to take the final target located on the ridge itself. On the 4th October 1917, at 06:00, the advance commenced at under the cover of an artillery barrage.
Through intensive fighting, the first three battalions were able to seize their objectives. As the 40th Battalion were set to advance towards the final objective, its progress became hampered by increasingly heavy machine-gun and rifle fire from a German pillbox 50 metres in front of his position, as well as by barbed wire entanglements and sectors of impassable swamp. McGee rushed alone across open ground towards the German machine gun post. He was armed solely with a revolver; he shot the gunners and captured remaining soldiers in the garrison and seized control of the pillbox.
He then organised a bombing party, and led the group in the seizure of a second machine gun post. By 09:12 on 5 October, the 40th Battalion had seized its objective and held complete control of the Broodseinde Ridge, having captured 300 Germans as prisoners in the process. Sadly, Sergeant McGee was killed in action during the second battle of Passchendaele, aged 29, at Augustus Wood on the morning of the 12th October 1917. He is buried at Tyne Cot cemetery nearby. Personal Research on Clarence Jeffries
Clarence Smith Jeffries VC was an Australian recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest decoration for gallantry “in the face of the enemy” that can be awarded to members of the British and Commonwealth armed forces. He was a Captain in the Australian Imperial Force; Jeffries was awarded the Victoria Cross following his actions in the First Battle of Passchendaele during the First World War. Jeffries was born in a suburb of Newcastle, New South Wales on 26 October 1894; He was the only child of Joshua Jeffries, a colliery manager, and his wife Barbara, nee Steel.
Jeffries attended Dudley Primary School before moving onto Newcastle Collegiate and High schools. Jeffries was employed as a surveyor at a mining company where his father served as general manager following his completion of school. In, 1912 he joined a militia battalion, where he was commissioned as a second lieutenant upon the outbreak of war and tasked with the instruction of volunteers for the newly raised Australian Imperial Force. He transferred into the Australian Imperial Force himself in 1916, where Jeffries embarked with his battalion for service on the Western Front.
In late November, the 34th Battalion was shipped to France for service on the Western Front. Initially posted to the Armentieres sector in Belgium, the battalion did not participate in its first major battle until June 1917, when it took part in the Battle of Messines after the British and Dominion operations switched to the Ypres Sector of Belgium. During the engagement, Jeffries received a bullet wound to the thigh while leading a patrol and was evacuated to the 3rd General Hospital in London.
While recovering, he was promoted to captain on 26 June, before rejoining his battalion in September as a company commander. During the battle of Passchendaele, heavy machine gun fire assaulted the troops from all directions. The position consisted of two pillboxes, supported by fifty metres of trench which was occupied by approximately thirty men with four machine guns and so the fire from these machine guns forced Jeffries men get cover and to halt the entire advance. Jeffries quickly organised a bombing party of fourteen men and set about outflanking the pillboxes.
Working around the position, the party attacked the emplacement from the rear, capturing four machine guns and thirty-five prisoners; thus reviving the advance. Jeffries then led his company forward under heavy artillery and machine gun fire to reach their first objective. At 08:25, parties from the 34th and 35th Battalions headed out along the south-eastern edge of the ridge towards the outskirts of Passchendaele. Almost immediately, they came under heavy fire from a pillbox close by a railway embankment, at which time Major J.
B. Buchanan, the senior brigade officer with the advance party, fell dead, leaving Jeffries to assume control. Gathering a party of eleven men, he set about silencing the machine gun position. Edging across the open ground, the party attacked the position from the west just as the machine gun was firing to the north. Realising that an attack was about to happen, the machine gunner switched around and mortally wounding Jeffries in the stomach along with the rest of the party.
When it fire eased, the remaining members of the group worked around the position, rushed it and seized two machine guns in conjunction with thirty prisoners. With the second objective only partially captured, the remnants of the 9th Brigade, battered by artillery and machine gun fire, were forced to relinquish their position and retreat back to their own lines. All that remained on the Passchendaele ridge of the 9th Brigade was the dead and wounded, among who was Clarence Jeffries, who was later counted among those with no known grave. Personal Research on James Peter Robertson
James Peter Robertson was born on 26 October 1883 and died on the 6 November 1917. He was a Canadian recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. Born in Albion Mines (now called Stellarton), Pictou County, Nova Scotia, Robertson was 34 years old, and a private in the 27th (City of Winnipeg) Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, during the First World War when the following deed took place for which he was awarded the VC.
On 6 November 1917 at Passchendaele, Belgium, when his platoon was held up by a machine-gun, Private Robertson rushed the gun, killed four of the crew and then turned the gun on the remainder. After inflicting more casualties and carrying the captured gun, he led his platoon to the final position and got the gun into action, firing on the retreating enemy. During the consolidation his use of the machine-gun kept down the enemy sniper fire. Later when two of the snipers on his own side were wounded, he went out and carried one of them in under heavy fire but he was killed by a shell just as he returned with the second man.
Conclusion: I conclude that War was so dreadful for British Soldiers on the Western Front because of four things: * How science and technology changed the nature of warfare – The Western Front during World War I essentially depended on trench warfare, which was defensive in nature. Neither side could advance, so the battles bogged down for long periods of time. The machine gun in particular made it nearly impossible for soldiers to leave the trenches; when they did, a high percentage was shot. How awful daily life was for soldiers in the trenches – Soldiers in the trenches were exposed to the elements–the wind, the sun, rain, snow. Drainage was poor, so there was often standing water or mud. Rats, mosquitoes, and other vermin proliferated. Maintaining basic sanitary conditions was nearly impossible, so disease was widespread. Meals were irregular, often from cans. In addition to urine and feces, there was likely to be blood and vomit in the trenches after time, not to mention the bodies of dead comrades who could not be pulled to safety.
Often one could hear the agonising of soldiers from both sides who had been caught and wounded in no-man’s land. Even while not fighting, one could hear the sound of battles in other areas, and there was constant fear. The men were far from their loved ones, and there was no outlet for sexual desire. Regular exercise was nearly impossible, sleep was uncomfortable, and there was little to do for entertainment. There was also the uncertainty about how long this would last. Why defending Ypres Salient was so difficult – It was only the aid of the Americans that finally ended the battles at Ypres. At the end of the war, over 1,700,000 men had been injured, killed or reported missing on both sides during Hill 60, Passchendaele, Lys, Sanctuary Wood, etc. This number does not take into account the enormous civilian casualties. It was a ‘Massacre of the Innocents’. * Why the Battle of the Somme was such a disaster – Communication significantly being the most important in causing the thousands of deaths that occurred in the Somme.
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