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23 Facts About World War 1: Summary, Causes & Effects

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World War 1 was a gripping time of innovation, heroism, and sacrifice, where people from all walks of life came together to navigate the challenges of a global conflict. Also known as the Great War, it not only altered the global political landscape but also transformed societies and forever impacted the lives of millions. 

While you may be familiar with some of the key events and major players, many lesser-known facts offer a unique perspective on this era of upheaval and resilience. 

From creative tactics used in the trenches to heroic deeds by humans and animals, this post sheds light on remarkable moments often overshadowed by the grand narrative.

So without further ado, let’s unpack some interesting facts about World War 1.

23 Gripping Facts About World War 1

Many people generally avoid discussing the First World War and its atrocities. But delving into the key causes and effects of the war will help you gain a deeper appreciation for the enduring spirit of those who lived through these tumultuous times.

From the assassination that ignited the war to heroic acts of service by carrier pigeons and the use of boy scouts and girl guides in the war effort, let’s venture beyond the textbooks and unpack some fascinating facts that shaped this monumental event. 

World War 1 will forever be a major part of global history, and here’s why.

1. World War 1 Wasn’t the First Global War

facts about world war 1

Photo by The New York Public Library on Unsplash

World War 1 might have been the first of its kind and magnitude, but the roots of global conflict can be traced back to the French and Indian War. It is also sometimes referred to as the Seven Years’ War, which took place from 1756 to 1763.

But what makes World War 1 so different is that it introduced the world to a new era of modern warfare. Similar to the second world war, fighting took place across several continents, at sea, on land, and, for the first time ever, in the air. 

2. It Began After an Assassination


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The spark that ignited the war was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. He wasn’t the only victim, as his wife Sophie, the Duchess of Hohenberg, was also assassinated and said to be pregnant then.  

The Archduke was the heir to the Austria-Hungary throne, and after their assassination, the country blamed Serbia, which led to a declaration of war.

3. A 20-Year-Old Ignited the War


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Meet Gavrilo Princip, the 20-year-old who changed the course of history. He was a student and a member of a Bosnian Serb nationalist group that wanted to unite territories containing ethnic Serbs, some of which were in Austria, under Serbia’s control.

Princip’s assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife set off a global chain reaction. Convinced that the Serbian government helped Princip and his group, Austria-Hungary issued harsh demands, most of which they agreed to, but just a month later, war was declared.

You might be thinking, what made the Austria-Hungary government change their mind? The short answer is that Austria-Hungary wanted to demonstrate its military might against Serbia. This was an effort to decrease Serbian support for Yugoslav nationalism.

4. The War Was Fought Between the Allies and Central Powers


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Although this was a global war, there were main players who saw most of the battle. The war pitched the Allies, also known as “The Entente Powers,” against the Central Powers. 

The Allies mainly included Great Britain, France, Belgium, Russia, Italy, Japan, and from 1917, the United States of America. On the other hand, the Central Powers consisted of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey.

5. World War 1 Soldiers Lived in Trenches


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Trench warfare basically involves battlefields in which opposing armies have fixed (and uncrossable) lines of defense.

This kind of modern warfare defined the fighting during World War 1, particularly on the Western Front – a line of narrow trenches that stretched from the Belgian coast to Switzerland. 

Soldiers from all sides lived in ditches dug into the ground. The opposing sides were separated by a piece of land called “No Man’s Land.” 

Life in the trenches was miserable for the soldiers. The trenches were overrun by giant rats, overflowing latrines, and lice infestations, not to mention the looming danger of coming under enemy fire.

6. The Conflict Brought Significant Changes for Women


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World War 1 brought significant changes for women as they entered the workforce in large numbers. The increasing number of men who went to fight left many vacancies back home. Suddenly women were working in offices, in buses, and in factories.

Women working in the factories that produced military weapons and explosives were nicknamed “munitionettes.” And while working outside the home empowered many women, the prolonged exposure to dangerous chemicals turned some of their skin yellow. 

This condition later earned them the nickname “canary girls.”

You might enjoy reading my article on the Spanish Civil War.

7. Tanks Were Developed in Secret


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Tanks were a top-secret development during the war. They were so secret that even the workers who assembled these vehicles were kept in the dark. The workers were told they were building mobile water tanks for desert warfare. 

And in an effort to confuse the enemy, these tanks were initially referred to as “landships.” The armored beasts would go on to revolutionize warfare and become a symbol of military might.

8. Animals Played Crucial Roles in the War Effort

Animals played crucial roles in the war effort. Dogs were fast and difficult to shoot at, so they were responsible for carrying messages, guarding roads and railways, and even catching rats. 

Other critters, like Homing pigeons, saved countless lives by delivering vital messages across enemy lines. To reduce the effectiveness of these flying messengers, the Germans trained hawks to target these heroic pigeons.

9. A Pigeon, Cher Ami Was a World War 1 Hero


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Cher Ami is a carrier pigeon that deserves special mention. As one of the 100,000 Homing pigeons used during the war, he once saved over 190 US soldiers by delivering a critical message despite being shot at by German soldiers. 

He lost an eye, and the US Army doctors had to replace his right leg with a wooden one. After his daring feat, Cher Ami was awarded the Croix de Guerre, one of France’s highest military honors, for his bravery.

10. Children Were Also Involved in the War


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Even children were involved in the war effort. Boy Scouts and Girl Guides played essential roles on the home front. The Boy Scouts mainly had the duty of signaling “All-Clear” after air raids. They also collected eggs for injured troops, delivered messages, and, at times watched over roads and railway lines. 

On the other hand, the girl guides were responsible for making basic medical equipment for wounded soldiers, such as bandages, swabs, and slings. They also grew vegetables and delivered milk.

11. The Battle of the Somme Was the Largest Battle of the War


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The Battle of the Somme was a colossal clash that went down in history as the bloodiest encounter of World War 1. This iconic battle was fought over five months from 1 July 1916 to 18 November 1916.

French and British soldiers fought the Germans along the River Somme, which resulted in over a million casualties. The battle was a pivotal turning point in World War 1, as it saw the first-ever use of tanks in war, which was a game changer on the battlefield.

The Battle of Somme also marked the end of trench warfare and introduced the beginning of modern warfare. It also highlighted the importance of proper planning, innovation, and coordination when fighting a war.

12. Motorized Ambulances Were First Used During World War 1


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The First World War introduced motorized ambulances on the battlefield. The Red Cross primarily supplied these vehicles. And as for the drivers, they were made up of various volunteers, including many writers and artists; among them was the legendary Walt Disney.

While these motorized ambulances made a great contribution to saving lives on the battlefield, they were not without difficulty. These vehicles’ most common problems were breakdowns, getting stuck in the mud, and running out of gas.

13. Native and African Americans Served in World War 1

Both Native and African Americans served in World War 1, despite 40% of Native people not being granted American citizenship until 1924. 

About 13,000 Native Americans and over 700,000 African Americans contributed their skills and courage to the war effort.

However, many of these courageous soldiers were barred from the Marines and only served in low-ranking roles in the Navy. They also served in segregated divisions under the Selective Service Act.

14. Germans Launched Bombing Raids From Airships Known As Zeppelins


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The German troops’ zeppelin bombing raids on London were a terror in the skies. At first, British guns were no match for these airships; they tried shooting them down, but their bullets caused little damage.

Luckily, British ingenuity prevailed when they invented bullets that ignited the gas inside the zeppelins, thus destroying them. With this innovation, the British could end the German air raids, thus greatly reducing the number of casualties.

15. Useful Gas Masks Didn’t Exist at the Start of the War


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At the onset of the war, gas masks were pretty much nonexistent. And this dealt a deadly blow to Western Front soldiers as the Germans started using chemical weapons on a large scale in an effort to break the deadlock on the Front Lines.

This left the soldiers in the trenches with rather awful alternatives. They used cotton pads or soaked cloths, like old socks, drenched in chemicals and sometimes even their own urine.

16. The War Introduced the World to Modern Forms of Art and Literature

Although there are many things we loathe World War 1 for, it brought with it many innovations. But those were not limited to technological advancements; the war also spurred a creative explosion in art and literature. 

Works like “All Quiet on the Western Front”, which has since been adapted into a movie, and “In Flanders Fields” were inspired by the war’s devastation. Meanwhile, artists like Otto Dix and Wyndham Lewis used their real-life experiences to capture the anguish of trench warfare.

17. The Youngest Confirmed Combatant to Serve Was Only 12 Years Old

According to historical records, Sidney Lewis was the youngest confirmed combatant in World War 1. He joined the ranks at the tender age of 12 years old. Lewis is likely to have lied about his age, seeing that many young men faked their ages to enlist early.

18. The “Fourteen Points” Speech Called for the Establishment of the League of Nations


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US President Woodrow Wilson’s “Fourteen Points” speech outlined a vision for peace by calling for establishing a new world order. This ultimately led to the founding of the League of Nations on 10 January 1920, a crucial step in preventing future conflicts.

19. The Oldest Soldier to Serve in World War 1 Lived to the Age of 111

On the opposite pole of historical records, the oldest soldier to have served in World War 1 was the British soldier Harry John Patch. Enlisting at 18 years old, he went on to live for a  remarkable 111 years. 

Patch was later nicknamed “the Last Fighting Tommy”, as he was the last surviving trench combat soldier from World War 1 of any nation.

20. About 16,000 British Objectors Refused to Fight in the War

Not all heroes wore capes or army uniforms. This was a clear act of heroism from around 16,000 British conscientious objectors who refused to fight during the war.

Despite being mocked, they were brave enough to stand by their principles. As a result, some of these objectors worked civilian jobs, and others even faced going to prison.

21. The “Stokes Mortar” Was the British Army’s Secret Weapon

The British army’s secret weapon, the “Stokes Mortar,” made a massive impact on the battlefield, and it is undoubtedly, one of the reasons for the Allies’ victory in the war. 

It was small enough for soldiers to carry it on their backs, thus bringing a new level of versatility to the battlefield. For some context, the British had over 1,600 Stokes Mortars on the Western Front, and that significantly turned the tides in favor of the British.

22. Germany Introduced the World’s First Flamethrower During the War


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Like with any war, the opposition also had its own secret weapon. Germany’s debut of the flamethrower on 26 February 1915 shocked enemy troops with its lethal capabilities. These fire-spitting machines thus had a terrifying impact on the war’s progression.

The “Kleinflammenwerfer” was first used for small-scale attacks, like the charge on French trenches on the Western Front. Later on 30 July, flamethrowers were used during the Battle of Ypres. 

23. A Ceasefire Was Observed at the 11th Hour of the 11th Day of the 11th Month of 1918

Last but certainly not least, the atrocities of World War 1 came to an end with a ceasefire. The momentous end of the war, also known as Armistice Day, occurred on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.

This was indeed a life-changing day that now stands as Veterans Day in the United States and as Remembrance Day in the Commonwealth.


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