Remembering World War I on Memorial Day Weekend

4th East Lancashire Regiment in the trenches at Nieuport Bains

The year 2014 marks a special time in military history, as this summer marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of one of the bloodiest wars in human history, World War I, a war which cost over 100,000 American lives.

The worldwide numbers of this war reveal an even greater horror: Sixty-five million soldiers fought; of those, ten million were killed in combat and twenty million were wounded. And, despite the promise of peace from the 1918 armistice, war engulfed Europe and the world less than 30 years later.

The Great War, or The War To End All Wars, began July 1914 with the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian-Hungarian throne, and his wife, by a Serbian nationalist student in Sarajevo.  It continued on to be one of the bloodiest wars in history, involving thirty countries and reshaping Europe, while introducing the United States as a global superpower.

Although the United States attempted to maintain a policy of isolationism, it would not tolerate unrestricted submarine warfare, in violation of international law. The United States entered this war in 1917.  Germany gave up their fight and formally surrendered on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month - November 11, 1918, and all nations had thankfully agreed to stop fighting at that time – a date and time which today survives to commemorate Veterans Day.

While one hundred years have passed, and there are no longer survivors or veterans of the war, it is not forgotten. In memory, we honor the many who lost their lives in this tragedy, and those who were decorated for their bravery.

Notable World War I servicemen killed in action in World War I include:

Leon Thrasher 
The very first American citizen to die in World War I, a 31-year-old mining engineer from Massachusetts, drowned when a German submarine, the U-28, torpedoed the cargo-passenger ship Falaba, on its way from Liverpool to West Africa off the coast of England. Of the 242 passengers and crew on board the Falaba, 104 drowned. Thrasher, who was deployed on the Gold Coast in British West Africa, was returning to his post from England as a passenger.

Lord Kitchener
The Senior British Army Officer who became Secretary of State for War. In May 1916, Kitchener received an invite from Nicholas II, Tsar or Russia, to visit Russia and advise him on military matters. On June 5th, Kitchener set sail from Scapa Flow for Russia on the cruiser ‘HMS Hampshire’.  The ‘Hampshire’ hit a German mine and within 15 minutes had sunk. 643 out of the 655 on board drowned or died of hypothermia. Kitchener was among the dead. While some bodies were later retrieved, his was never found.

Manfred Albrecht von Richthofen
Also widely known as the Red Baron, the German fighter pilot with the Imperial German Army, considered the top ace of the war who defied the odds and became a legend in the air; he was officially credited with victories of over 80 air combats.  He was killed flying high above the Somme River in France.

Wilfred Owen
He is one of many World War I soldiers who turned to poetry to express their horror at the war. Like one-third of all Englishmen born in 1893, he was killed in France, only one week before the Armistice. As he wrote:

Here dead we lie,
Because we did not choose
To live and shame the land
From which we sprung.

Life to be sure,
Is nothing much to lose
But young men think it is,
And we were young.

Of the millions who died, there were family members at home waiting for their telegrams to hear whether their beloved family members were alive or dead. One particular mother in Britain received the dreaded telegram five times, “We deeply regret…”Like the mother of every serving soldier, Amy Beechey dreaded a knock on the door and the telegram she knew would break her heart.  This wife of a Lincolnshire clergyman suffered her very own hell... she lost five of her eight sons in the space of just three years. Amy was honored by the king and queen for her immense sacrifice despite her great pride in her sons, she was a reluctant heroine.

This Memorial Day Weekend, while honoring the servicemembers who fought and died in service to our country, let us not forget those from a hundred years ago.

Photo: Public Domain, 4th East Lancashire Regiment in the trenches at Nieuport Bains

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