Voices from the First World War
Going Into Battle
The First World War was a terrible and tragic start to a new century. It was called The War to End All Wars but it did nothing of the sort. On the contrary it laid the framework for the next World War.
There were 35 million civilian and military casualties. This is a collection of sayings from those who were really there at the time of the First World War. The Germans' quotes are represented by beginning with a red letter, whilst the British Soldiers' quotes start with the colour green.
In Battle - Voice of a German Soldier
We got orders to storm the French position. We got in and I saw my comrades start falling to the right and left of me. But then I was confronted by a French corporal with his bayonet to the ready, just as I had mine. I felt the fear of death in that fraction of a second when I realised that he was after my life, exactly as I was after his. But I was quicker than he was, I pushed his rifle away and rany my bayonet through his chest. He fell, putting his hand on the place where I had hit him, and then I thrust again. Blood came out of his mouth and he died.
I nearly vomited. My knees were shaking and they asked me 'What's the matter with you?' I remember then that we had been told that a good soldier kills without thinking of his adversary as a human being - the very moment he sees him as a fellow man, he's no longer a good soldier. My comrades were absolutely undisturbed by what had happened. One of them boasted that he had killed a poilu with the butt of his rifle. Another one had strangled a French captain. A third had hit someon over the head with his spade. They were ordinary men like me. One was a tram conductor, another a commerical traveller, two were students , the rest farm workers - ordinary people who never would have thought to harm anybody.
In Battle - Voice of an English Soldier
The idea was to crawl underneath the German wire and jump into their front-line trench. Then you'd dispose of whoever was holding it, by bayonet if possible, without making any noise, or by clubbing over the head with the butt. Once you'd establish yourself in the trench you'd wend your way round each bay. A rifleman would go first, and he'd stop at the next bay, which was normally unoccupied. The bomb-thrower would then throw a grenade towards the next bay, and when that exploded the rifleman who was leading would dash into the trench and dispose of any occupants that were still left. And so we'd go on until we'd cleared the whole trench.
The Finest Account of World War 1
Hope on the Battlefield
One summer evening soon after the battle of the Somme had started, the guns were rumbling and there was a terrible noise of battle in our ears. Yet where we lay, just thirty metres from the trenches, there were mountains and peace, and hardly any shooting. We could see the French soldiers, and one night a Frenchman started to sing - he was a wonderful tenor. None of us dared to shoot and suddenly we were all looking out from the trenches and applauding, and the Frenchman said, 'Merci'. It was peace in the middle of war, and the strange thing was, that was just a few kilometres north-wards, the terrible battle of the Somme was going on.
I'd give full marks to the Salvation Army. They had one place I used to drop into often. And it was a most uncomfortable spot to be in. It was at Vimy. The main road came through Vimy and down onto the plain that way. Well, you didn't take that main road if you could avoid it, it was under constant shellfire. At night it got even worse, as the Germans reckoned that transport used it at night, so they would keep strafing it the whole time. But tucked into the side of the hill was the Salvation Army. And they used to have tea and whatever going all hours of the day. How they survived there I don't know. Wonderful people. In the middle of nowhere to suddenly walk into a place and get a piping hot pot of tea, it was a great reviver.
First World War Footage
All of a sudden the enemy fire ceased. Complete silence came over the battlefield. The one of the chaps in my shell-hole said, 'I wonder what they are up to,' and another answered, 'Perhaps they are getting tea.' A third one said, 'Don't be a fool, do you see what I see?' And we looked over the brim of our shell-hole and there between the brick-heaps, out had come a British soldier with a Red Cross flag that he waved at us. And he was followed by stretcher-bearers who came up slowly towards us and collected our wounded. We got up, still completely dumb from the fear of death, and helped them to bring our wounded into our trenches.
I came across a sergeant lying dead on the ground with his hand on an open bible. It was a Douai Bible and from that I knew he was Catholic. The shrapnel was pouring over our heads, but I closed his eyes, then closed the book and put it in my pocket before crawling to the front line. Later on I took his address from it and sent it home to his widow.