Chaos band 
and black bloc march Jolly Roger Hot anarchist artist @ WEF protest

What was the First World War all about?
Part 2.                         Read Part One


    In April 1917, a British offensive captured some high ground overlooking Ypres . . . the notorious Vimy Ridge. The same month had the USA declare war upon Germany, but it would be a year before trained American troops arrived in France.

    Life in the trenches after a battle has been described:

  "By day, the only signs of life in the 'moonscape' of no-man's land was the hoarse and parched voices of the badly wounded pleading for help which would never arrive, and the hawks and carrion crows alighting to gorge upon the many corpses. At dusk, hordes of rats, seemingly in their billions, materialised to indulge in feasting upon the dead and the dying who were too weak to fend them off. Bodies were reduced to khaki-clad skeletons within hours!"


    On 7th June 1917 the British eliminated another German position that overlooked Ypres. Nineteen mines were exploded in tunnels burrowed beneath the Messines Ridge. This was followed by an artillery barrage from 2,266 guns and howitzers and an infantry attack by 80,000 men. The rim of land was captured at a cost of 1,700 Allied lives. This was merely a prelude to the third Battle of Ypres, described even today as one of the most squalid bouts of butchery in the history of warfare – now more generally known as 'Passchendaele.'

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British soldiers in a boggy trench.
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1907 German one mark silver coin.


    On 31st July 1917, four thousand Allied guns pounded German lines for ten days. 4½ million shells reduced the villages to rubble and then turned the rubble to dust. For four months, mostly in heavy rain and waterlogged conditions, this mindless slaughter continued unabated. In October, the Germans unleashed another new weapon for the first time: mustard gas, which caused blindness and burns. On 4th November, the Canadians captured a mass of shell holes that had once been Passchendaele. The Allied line had advanced five miles for the loss of nearly 400,000 Allies and at least 200,000 Germans. Six months later, the germans had re-captured all the ground the Allies had gained since 1914.

Makeshift gas masks.
Troops use goggles and wet gauze to protect themselves from gas raids.
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        The battle zone, World War I.
The battle zone, World War I.

    On the night of 21st March 1918, the Germans hurled themselves at the British in the centre of the Allied line in the second Battle of the Somme. For a week, the British were forced back, but eventually halted the German advance at Amiens. The Germans then launched massive attacks against the French to the right, which drove the line back once more to the Marne, where another stubborn resistance held the ferocious German attack.

Poison gas.
Germans release poison gas.

    War-weariness and exhaustion was affecting both sides by this time. The original British regular army had been destroyed in the first few months of the war. Kitchener's volunteer army, comprising those who had so enthusiastically flocked to the recruiting offices in 1914-15, had been destroyed at the Somme. The British were now scraping the bottom of the barrel to replace the horrific losses. The very young, the old, and the unfit were all being dragged in. When fresh American troops joined the final Allied offensive which opened on 18th July, the Germans wilted and were rolled back until the final victory on 11th November 1918.

First tank advancing to the front line.
The first tank (with guide wheels at the rear). These wheels were found to be more trouble than they were worth, and were discarded on later versions.


Lest we forget – the aftermath
    Left behind, marking the position of the Western Front, was a scene of utter destruction. Every landmark had been wiped out and was unrecognisable. But nature healed the man-made wounds of the landscape.

Ypres in 1916, after the Battle of Ypres.
Ypres, 1916, after the Battle of Ypres.
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    Shattered tree stumps threw out leaves, and the ground became covered in poppies . . . a plant that thrives naturally where ever soil is badly disturbed. . . which became an emblem and trade-mark for a new "Remembrance" industry. Towns and villages were painstakingly re-built, and today, only the pages of history and the many man-made memorials make the visitor aware of the insane carnage that was acted out in these areas.

Bringing in the wounded,
Passchendaele, 1917.

German colonial stamp for Togo, in West Africa.


    Accurate numbers of losses on the Western front are unknown, but even today, bones and skulls are unearthed by ploughs and ditching machines. Many memorials list names of those "lost without trace" . . . 55,000 engraved at the Menin Gate, 34,000 at another memorial nearby and so on. These are just the names of british and Empire troops and do not include French, belgian, or german losses. Acres of war graves litter France, in which those whose remains were found are laid to rest.


    Today, in this year 2002, the land on which these war graves exist has become valuable, and the French government have made it known that they intend allowing these grave sites to be used for capitalist development. The thought of bulldozers and construction activity operating upon these plots is abhorrent to most workers who are protesting about the lack of respect, gratitude, reverence and esteem etc for those who died for "freedom". The harsh question should be asked: what respect, gratitude, reverence or esteem did these reluctant and unsuspecting heroes ever have when they lived? A basic understanding of capitalism would indicate that the only freedom workers ever fight for in wars is the freedom for their national capitalists to do exactly as they wish to make a profit.


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