It was supposed to be “the war to end all wars”. Not only did it lead to a second global conflict, but it was also the first major war to be fought in the technological age, and surpassed any other in its scale of destruction.
Despite the use of modern weapons such as airplanes, tanks and submarines, the lasting image of world war one is its terrible trench warfare. Among those caught up in the trenches was Henry Allingham, 112 years old, one of only four surviving British veterans of World War I. He lived through three battles, including the infamous battle of Ypres in Belgium. “I fell in that big shell hole,” he said. “It stank. Arms, legs, everything. Human flesh, blown to pieces, feet, hands… terrible. If I had moved to the right, I wouldn’t have been here now, I doubt.”
No one knows exactly how many people died during world war one – but historians estimate that up to 10 million men lost their lives on the battlefield – and another 20 million were wounded.
The biggest losses were suffered by Germany, which lost nearly two million people, and Russia with 1.7 million dead.
France, the Austro-Hungarian empire, Britain, and Italy also suffered great losses in this conflict which was the first truly global war, with Asia and Africa also involved. “What I think, it’s only what I think, but I think there’ll come a time where the world itself will be one big nation,” said 112-year old Henry Allingham. “I hope there’ll be no war, pray that in the whole world there’ll be no war, nobody wins the next war, nobody.”
Today, the world has not seen a global conflict in more than 60 years. And as the last World War One veterans disappear, their conflict, for many, is but a bloody page of history.