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The Great War
Prologue Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Timeline Maps & Battles The Shaping of the 21st Century Historians
OverviewMutinyCollapseBrittain / KamaraDesagneaux / Borden
Voices of the Great War

Henri Desagneux Henri Desagneux
Henri Desagneux, a French soldier, experienced "The Furnace" -- the Battle of Verdun - first hand in 1916.

Play Audio"At every moment we are sprayed with clouds of earth and stone splinters. How many men are afraid. How many men are weak at the knees! ...we are no longer in a civilized world. One suffers and says nothing... At out feet, the wounded groan in a pool of blood. For hours these groans and supplications continue until they die before our eyes without anyone being able to help them."
-- Henri Desagneaux - A French Soldier's War Diary 1914-1918

Underground city, Verdun
Underground city, Verdun
To break the stalemate on the Western Front, on February 21, 1916, the Germans began a massive attack against Verdun, a place that the French considered as important as Paris to their identity as a people and nation.

The Citadelle at Verdun

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During the ten-month battle so many cannons were fired that the area was ablaze in exploding shells that could be seen for miles. One soldier likened the battlefield to a "furnace."

Historian Commentary

Stephane Audoin-Rouzeau, Historian
The battle of Verdun is the battle of France. It's a place of the identity of France, of France-ness, I would say. There was no battle before, and no battle after, which was so important in the French memory. So you can't understand France without understanding Verdun.
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Mary Borden Mary Borden
Mary Borden was an American traveling in Europe at the start of the war, and stayed on to run a field hospital in 1916 at the Battle of the Somme

Play Audio"The operating room was ablaze... The place by one o'clock in the morning was a shambles. The air was thick with steaming sweat...
It was my business to sort out the wounded as they were brought in from the ambulances and to keep them from dying before they got to the operating room. ...If I made a mistake, some would die on their stretchers on the floor under my eyes who need not have died."
-- Mary Borden, from her memoirs, The Forbidden Zone

French casualties, Somme
French casualties, Somme
After seven days and nights of massive bombardment in which over one million shells were fired, British General Douglas Haig orders his troops "over the top." Because of the use of this heavy bombardment of German lines, the men were told that they would march with ease into the German trenches where they would find all the Germans dead. The Germans, however, had survived. Of the 100,000 British who attacked that day, 20,000 were killed and over 40,000 were wounded.

Historian Commentary
The Battle of the Somme

John Keegan, Historian
It was the biggest barrage that had ever been. They [the Allies] fired millions of shells. They were firing over 100,000 shells a day; relentless, relentless banging and booming of this tremendous bombardment. So loud you could hear it in England, if the wind was in the right direction -- 60 or 70 miles away. And that gave the soldiers great confidence because they thought: "How can anybody live under this bombardment?"
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