The Great War Revisited

With an increase in the popularity and interest in World War I due to the new Sam Mendes film “1917,” I would like to discuss WWI and its related subjects. My experience with WWI veterans and my grandfather, Paul Jarrett, a hand-to-hand combat expert and instructor with the famous 42nd “Rainbow” Division, is something I would love to share with folks that are interested in this war.

I am a former community college professor of history, have produced an award-winning documentary on the Great War, and have interviewed over 100 veterans of the WWI. It would be my pleasure to have engaging dialogue via my blog, and I encourage you to join the discussion.

In addition, I have walked for miles in WWI trenches and No Man’s Land and have visited many cement bunkers during my four trips to the Western Front, most of which were untouched by tourists over the past 100 years. Also, I have found many relics of the Great War as well, including shrapnel, live artillery shells, live hand grenades, mess kits, bullets, barbed-wire, etc.


1. Most historians would say that the 20th century began during or after WWI.

A. IT CHANGED THE WORLD IN A MAJOR WAY: We went from the 1800s to the 1900s not on New Year’s Eve in 1899, or 1900, but when WWI occurred (1914-1918) and the massive post-war changes.  All walks of life were affected.

2. Empires and kingdoms vanished and 10 new countries were created:

A map of Europe during the conflict.
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Why did World War I begin? As with most wars the reasons behind why the Great War began seem like a difficult task to untangle, but in reality, they are fairly easy to distill. The following, in no particular order, are the 4 main reasons for the war to break out in the autumn of 1914:

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To understand what was trench warfare and why the Great War devolved into one of the vilest forms of fighting one needs to take a look at how the opening of the war evolved in August of 1914 [see my previous blog “How and Why Did WWI Begin?”]
What was trench warfare? Simply put, as the Schlieffen Plan was implemented by Germany when attacking France via Belgium, the Germans were outflanking the French on the left as seen below. Once the French realized that they were being outflanked, they tried to outflank the Germans right flank. Each time both sides realized they might be outflanked, they tried to outflank the enemy. These two armies would eventually run out of land to outflank each other when they came to the English Channel. This became known in history as the Race to the Sea (see map below).

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The words that I’ve heard personally trench warfare life from the many World War I veterans that I have interviewed describing what it was like to live in the trenches would be: “disgusting, wet, filthy, inhumane.”

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We left off in the last blog with the list of WWI trench life conditions that were tremendously adverse to the health of the soldiers living in them.

3. Body odor—Although it seems like a small bothersome evil compared to the other items on this list, imagine if you will: Soldiers in the front-line trench would not a shower for at least 12 days. Remember, they would live for 8 days in that trench, and then be moved back to the reserve trench for another 4 days. Also, they never took their clothes off, unless they were to look for lice living in their shirts, or seams/waistlines of their trousers. Also, they kept their boots on at all times in case of an attack. Generally, there was always a nasty odor living in these dark, wet, hot, cold Hellish trenches.

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Raiding parties like this one from the 42nd “Rainbow” Division carries canvas sacks of grenades as they leave the safety of their own trench on the way to the German trenches.

Raiding Parties during WWI. Many people who read about World War I, the Great War, are aware of trench warfare and the many stories of how the massive battles were fought, generally frontal assaults charging against defensive machine guns and devastating artillery bombardments. However, few folks realize there was a much more personal and deadly type of fighting on the Western Front: the raiding party.

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