It was the War to End All Wars, but most Queenslanders know surprisingly little about the First World War.
With 79 per cent of Queensland adults rating their knowledge of the First World War as basic or very limited, the Queensland Government has launched a new campaign to generate conversation about the First World War.
The campaign, part of the 2014-2018 Anzac Centenary, will help carry on the Anzac spirit by highlighting a collection of lesser known, but quite interesting, World War I facts.
Here are 10 things you probably didn’t know about the First World War.
“If we’re not good enough to fight for, we’re not good enough to smoodge with”
During the First World War, single women in the Victorian town of Healesville banded together to boycott the dating of young men who failed to enlist.
“If we’re not good enough to fight for,” they declared, “we’re not good enough to smoodge with.” (‘Smoodge’ was slang for kissing and cuddling; we’re glad it’s gone out of fashion.)
This cartoon, via the National Library of Australia, appeared in a Melbourne newspaper called Truth on 3 February 1917.
There were women on the frontlines
A handful of women served on the frontlines of the First World War. A young English reporter, desperate for a great story, fought on the Somme disguised as a Tommy in 1915.
Nadeshda Degtereva disguised herself as a 19-year-old boy and joined the Russian air service aged 17.
In 1917, Loretta Walsh became the first American active-duty Navy woman.
Flora Sandes enlisted as a volunteer with St Johns Ambulance, and when separated from her unit, joined a Serbian regiment for safety, where she took up the rifle and became the first woman to be commissioned as an officer in the Serbian army and the only British woman to officially enlist as a soldier in the First World War.
And in 1917, the Russian Government created 15 women-only battalions who fought against the Germans during the Kerensky Offensive.
Gas masks are much better than the alternative
The use of poisonous gases caught the Allied Forces off guard in the First World War. To protect themselves, soldiers were instructed to place a urine-soaked cloth over their face.
It wasn’t until about 1917 that gas masks with filters were provided to the troops to protect them from about 30 different gases being used, often causing horrible death.
Winnie the Pooh was inspired by the First World War…
The inspiration for Winnie the Pooh was a black bear called Winnipeg, who was a First World War Canadian Brigade mascot.
In 1914, while en route to England to serve in the First World War, Harry Colebourne — who was from a small Canadian town called Winnipeg — purchased a young female black bear cub from a hunter who had killed the bear’s mother near White River, Ontario.
Colebourne named the bear ‘Winnipeg’ after his hometown, or ‘Winnie’ for short. Winnie soon gained recognition as the Brigade’s mascot and travelled to Britain with them.
When the Brigade was posted to the battlefields of France, Colebourn left Winnie with the London Zoo, and formally donated her to the Zoo in 1919.
Winnie was a very popular attraction, and one of her most frequent visitors was Christopher Milne, who named his teddy bear after her. Christopher was the son of author AA Milne.
Christopher’s teddy bear served as the inspiration for AA Milne’s classic children’s book, Winnie-the-Pooh, published in 1926. The real-life Winnie lived until 1934, eight years after her fictional namesake shot to fame.
… And so was Doctor Dolittle
Doctor Dolittle, the fictional doctor who can talk to animals, was based on a series of letters from a First World War soldier, Hugh Lofting, writing home to his kids.
Not wishing to tell them about the brutality of war, Lofting instead wrote imaginative letters with illustrations, which later became the foundation of his first Doctor Dolittle novel, published in 1920.
Walt Disney went to war
The first ever motorised ambulances were used during the First World War. Thousands of men and women volunteered as ambulance drivers, including legendary animator and entrepreneur Walt Disney.
Just 16 at the time, Disney decorated his vehicle with cartoons, as pictured below (via the American Red Cross).
Australia sent more than 120,000 horses to the First World War, but only one came home
Horses performed various roles in the War, and were involved in a number of notable battles under harsh conditions with little food and water, often carrying almost 130 kilograms.
At the end of the First World War, about 13,000 of the 120,000 horses Australia sent to the First World War were still alive — but, due to quarantine concerns, they couldn’t be returned home. Many of them were re-issued to other Imperial forces, while others were sold to French and Belgian locals who had to promise they wouldn’t kill the horses for their meat.
Roughly 3,000 of the horses were deemed unsuitable for re-issue and were humanely destroyed under veterinary condition.
Major General Sir William Bridges’ horse, Sandy, was the only one to actually make it home to Australia, where he saw out his days grazing at the Central Remount Depot in Maribyrnong, Victoria.
The Allies dug a lot of trenches
It’s hard to know exactly how many kilometres of trenches there were on the Western Front, but it’s believed that the Allies’ network, if laid end-to-end, would have stretched approximately 20,000 kilometres — that’s nearly the entire coastline of Australia!
First World War soldiers could spend anywhere from one day up to several weeks at a time in the trenches. This consisted of time in the frontline trenches, support trenches and also time resting. Even while ‘resting’, though, soldiers had work to do — repairing trenches, moving supplies, cleaning weapons, undergoing inspections or doing guard duty.
Anzac Day was devised by Queenslanders
On 10 January 1916, the Mayor of Brisbane called for a public meeting, where the Anzac Day Commemoration Committee of Queensland (ADCC) was formed.
It’s said that Thomas Augustine Ryan, a Brisbane auctioneer, put forward the suggestion that 25 April (the landing at Gallipoli) be allocated as a day of solemn remembrance.
The Committee then tasked Chaplain Canon David John Garland (later dubbed the ‘architect of Anzac Day’) to devise Queensland’s Anzac Day activities. He and others on the committee lobbied leaders throughout Australia, NZ and London to adapt Queensland’s plans and host their own Anzac Day commemorations.
As if the war wasn’t enough to deal with…
The deadliest flu outbreak in history occurred at the end of the First World War (1918-19), claiming about 50 million lives worldwide. By comparison, ‘only’ 17 million people were killed during the war.
An estimated 500 million people worldwide were infected — at the time, that was almost a third of the world’s population.
For more fascinating First World War facts, follow the campaign at facebook.com/anzaccentenaryqld.
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