World War I happened more than 100 years ago. With that amount of time, the details of what and what did not happen during that long but not forgotten time had merged into a mush of facts and myths passed down from one generation to another, especially now that books were not the only source of information for people. Here are some of the commonly told myths of the First World War that have been debunked by historians.
The Number One Killer of WWI Was the Machine Gun
Whenever we picture World War I, perhaps the very image we have in our minds is of men in dirty uniforms running into no man’s land as they scream at the top of their lungs while waving their machine guns. Although it was quite a dramatic and powerful scene, the reality was that the weapon responsible for causing the largest number of deaths during WWI was the artillery weapons. Safe to say that it was an artillery war.
In Stephen Bull’s book titled Trench: A History of Trench Warfare on the Western Front (2010), he concluded that the biggest killer on the western front was the artillery, responsible for “two-thirds of all deaths and injuries.” Out of the two-thirds, a third of them resulted in death, while the remaining two-thirds suffered from injuries, so they were either entirely obliterated, dismembered, or shell shocked. Between 1915 and 1918, seven out of ten British casualties were caused by artillery. The statistics were the same as the number of casualties for the French army.
Soldiers Were in the Trenches All Year Long
The situation in the trenches was far from ideal: There were plenty of rats, no proper human waste and garbage disposal, it stank, and filthy mud flooded the trenches during the rainy season. One could only imagine how horrible and difficult it was for the soldiers to have to endure the situation to fight for the nation and to think that the war lasted for several years!
While the awful living situations were definitely true, they did not stay and live in the trenches for the whole duration of the war. On average, soldiers stayed for four days at a time in the trenches before they were sent away. Imagine how it would crush the morale and the health of the troops if they had to stay in a God-forsaken place for an extended period of time. The British Army, for instance, would rotate their men in and out of the trenches, so a soldier would only have to stay for around ten days per month in the trenches. Sometimes, the soldiers would be away from the trench lines a whole month before they were called to return.
Women Were Not Allowed to Fight
When World War I began, the rules of most militaries were pretty strict about not allowing women to join in the active fighting. While it was true that Britain and America did not permit women in combatant roles, there were those who sneaked in and pretended to be men like Dorothy Lawrence.
In other countries like Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Serbia, women were allowed to serve as combat troops. In Russia, a woman named Maria Bochkareva founded the “Women’s Battalion of Death.” She was the first woman ever to lead a Russian military unit. However, she had to go through wiring a petition to the Czar to enlist in the Imperial Russian army and endure harassment and ostracization. In the end, she became a decorated soldier.
Further, all-women units were created in 1917, like the 1st Petrograd Women’s Battalion, which was utilized to defend the Winter Palace. Bochkavera’s unit was also present in the October Revolution, fighting at the front.