The war machine

World War One witnessed the clash of vast armies, each fighting with deadly weapons and new techniques. The enormity of the conflict presented huge logistical issues for the military in each country involved. Each of the 65 million men mobilised to fight had to be trained, armed, clothed, fed and transported. How were they organised? What new weapons were developed? How was the bureaucracy of war conducted and how were the troops cared for?

Famous Lord Kitchener recruitment poster, 'Your country needs you', produced in September 1914.

Voluntary recruiting in Britain, 1914-1915

Article by:
Peter Simkins

In 1914 Lord Kitchener introduced voluntary enlistment to expand the British forces. Professor Peter Simkins explains why and how this initiative so successfully recruited large numbers of men at the beginning of World War One.

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Poster commissioned by The British Parliamentary Recruiting Committee, and designed by Savile Lumley. It was published in 1915, by which time the war was already being referred to as ‘The Great War’.

Recruitment: conscripts and volunteers during World War One

Article by:
Alexander Watson

Dr Alex Watson looks in detail at the statistics surrounding the millions of conscripted and volunteer soldiers who served the European armies of World War One.

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Emperor Karl visits the front: Lewico in South Tyrol

Military structures and ranks

Article by:
Jonathan Boff

Dr Jonathan Boff explains how the British Army used military structures and ranks to organise and order its nine million soldiers in World War One.

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Photograph showing men from the No. 6 McGill Battery. This Battery was formed of undergraduates and graduates from McGill University in Montreal.

Military discipline and punishment

Article by:
Gary Sheffield

Professor Gary Sheffield discusses conformity and rebellion of World War One troops within the frame of military discipline and punishment.

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Map showing wet areas of Passchendaele front (detail)

Supply and logistics

Article by:
David Stevenson

With focus on shipping, rail, road and manpower, Professor David Stevenson explores the logistics behind the management and supply of army resources in World War One and considers what impact this had on the war’s outcome.

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Anti-aircraft location (detail)

Weapons of World War One

Article by:
Paul Cornish

Senior Curator Paul Cornish looks at the developments in weaponry technology and strategy that led to the modern warfare of World War One, which was characterised by deadly new weapons, trench deadlocks, and immense numbers of casualties.

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Types of German aeroplanes

Aerial warfare during World War One

Article by:
Bernard Wilkin

From Zeppelin airships to propaganda leaflet drops, Bernard Wilkin explores the significant role of aerial warfare in World War One – where it was used on a large scale for the first time.

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The War at sea

Article by:
Louise Bruton

In the lead-up to World War One Britain and Germany were engaged in a naval arms race. Archivist Louise Bruton examines how the war heralded a new form of naval warfare that featured dreadnoughts, submarines and trade blockades.

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Belgian army. Machine guns pulled by dogs (detail)

Animals and war

Article by:
Matthew Shaw

Millions of animals were relied upon by all sides in World War One. Curator Dr Matthew Shaw discusses the role of animals in transport, logistics, cavalry and communications, and considers their psychological function for troops and as propaganda.

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Note by senior India Office official, Sir Frederic Arthur Hirtzel, on the policy of the British Government regarding Syria and Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq). 20 November 1918.

Official documents

Article by:
Stephen Badsey

Professor Stephen Badsey considers the huge volume of official documentation produced during and after World World One for both public circulation and as secret state records.

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Wounded soldiers in a military hospital in Strasbourg during the war

Evolution and expansion: the International Committee of the Red Cross in World War One

Article by:
Jenny Tobias

Jenny Tobias explores the work of the Red Cross in World War One, from the provision of essential relief for sick or wounded soldiers and civilians, to the establishment of the International Prisoners of War Agency.

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Alpine barber in the trenches of Cerna (detail)

The daily life of soldiers

Article by:
Paul Cornish

With focus on the routines of work, rest and recreation, Senior Curator Paul Cornish describes the typical daily life experienced by soldiers in World War One.

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A photograph of soldiers operating as a ‘listening post’, dating from 1914-15. It is likely this is a training exercise.

Training to be a soldier

Article by:
Jonathan Boff

How were soldiers prepared for World War One? Dr Jonathan Boff examines the stages of training undertaken by the millions of soldiers across the British, German and French armies.

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Further Themes

Origins, outbreak and conclusions

How did World War One begin? Why did it escalate and what was the impact of both war and peace on the countries involved?

Life as a soldier

What was life like for the millions of professional, conscripted or recruited soldiers?

Race, empire and colonial troops

Over four million non-white men served in WWI. Explore more about their lives and responsibilities.

Civilians

What was life like for civilians, women, children and those displaced by the fighting?

Propaganda

How was propaganda used to inspire patriotism, dehumanise the enemy and change opinions?

Representation and memory

In addition to poetry, what were the other creative responses to the War? How have these affected our memory and understanding?

Historical debates

How have the views of historians and our understanding of World War One changed over time?