A French crew manning a machine gun turret.
This is a photograph of a French armoured car in the snow on the Western Front during WW1. To call it an armoured car is perhaps a bit of an exaggeration. While there are some light armoured platings, particularly in the rear and a gun shield to provide some cover to the machine gun crew, the can of the vehicle is completely exposed and there is no protection from any shrapnel or fire coming from the side.
In addition to the obvious deficiencies in its armour, the truck has obviously thin wheels which would make it prone to getting stuck in the snow and the mud of the front.
By the standards of even later in the war, vehicles such as this were completely useless sitting ducks. However they were important first steps in the development of an armoured fighting force, which would eventually lead to the impressive tanks fielded by the British, French and Americans towards the end of the war.
This French poster from 1916 tells us a lot about some of the social and health issues facing the French army, as well as French society’s attitude about what constituted an honourable and worthy death.
The vignette shows a young and healthy French soldier at the top. But he is seduced by a woman of the streets (left side of poster), contracts a venereal disease and ends up sitting outside a hospital (right side). The treatment fails and he is dead (skull and crossbones on the bottom). Silly French peasant soldier. He could not resist the temptation of this young diseased hussy and so his country has been denied the ability to send him to serve as cannon fodder, because the disease killed him before he could sacrifice himself in a futile but gallant charge against the German trenches!
The text in the middle of the poster reads as follows:
Soldier, the motherland is counting on you. Keep all you strength for her. Resist the seduction of the street, where you can catch a disease that is just as dangerous as the war, and which leads its victims to decline and a death without purpose, without happiness.
While the poster is certainly melodramatic, sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis were certainly a health problem for the soldiers, since medicine had not yet come up with an effective treatment for the disease.
What is interesting about this poster is the implied message. It is telling the soldier to stay healthy for the sake of the motherland and to avoid street walkers because this will lead to a dishonourable death. But what is the alternative? If the soldier does as he is told and keeps himself pure and healthy, is he promised to come home to his pre-war life? Although it is not expressly stated, I think the poster is implicitly stating that if you stay healthy you will avoid an unhappy death without purpose, but you will not avoid death; just that you will have the honour of dying for a worthy cause and so you will die happy.
Millions of men certainly died in this useless conflict. I hope that they did not heed this warning and at least had a little bit of human companionship before they were slaughtered in the trenches.
War is hell, except when it is fun. We are used to see sombre picture from World War 1 showing the death and devastation caused by the fighting. Here however is a slightly unusual and offbeat picture from 1914.
A young boy is stuffed inside the open mouth of a captured German trench mortar. He seems to be loving the idea that he might be shot out of a cannon. On the left, a French soldier is also smiling and laughing. The scene seems peaceful and lighthearted.
Yet the front was probably only a few miles away and most likely the fighting swept through this French village at some point, upending the lives of these peoples and their families. If they survived the war, chances are that they did not experience many more light hearted moments like this.
On April 2, 1916, two German Zeppelin bombers were spotted making their way along the British coast.
They were part of a campaign of air raids targeting British installations, including dockyards, as well as civilian targets. The big, lumbering airships carried a big payload of bombs and while both sides had airships, none were as feared or as efficient as the German Zeppelins.
It was night time and the sky and the land were both dark. All the lights in town had been turned off to avoid giving the German bombers a way of getting their bearings, but the lights of a nearby railway station were still burning, which may have acted as a beacon for the airships. One could hear the engines of the big zeppelins but they were invisible amid the darkened sky.
The people of the town of Togston could see flashes in the distance, and the rumble of exploding bombs, as the zepellins dropped their bombs on nearby towns. Then it was their turn.
The machines passed over main street and dropped their loads before turning out to sea and returning to their bases across the channel. This time the people of Togston were lucky: the bombs did some damage, breaking windows and knocking down some ceilins but the bombs missed whatever the zeppelin bombardiers were aiming for. One bomb landed in parcel of open land, leaving a large crater, which became the center of excitement in this small town.