Whenever we talk about WWI, we can imagine the Flanders Fields of Belgium that inspired Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae to write his poem, “In Flanders Fields.”
That is not wrong, but not entirely correct, too, since not all the crucial battles of World War I in Europe. Discover the other regions that shifted WWI.
While it is easy to assume that the first shots fired during the First World War happened somewhere on the Western Front, that is incorrect. The very first shot fired by the British army was, in fact, in a small West African country, Togoland, now called Togo. The person who fired that shot was Lance Corporal Alhaji Grunshi of the Gold Coast Regiment. It was August 7, 1914, just three days after Britain declared war on Germany when a German police force fired a shot, to which Grunshi very well responded.
You might be wondering: What were they doing in West Africa?
It was because the Germans were building a cutting-edge wireless radio station in the town of Kamina, using the local workforce to construct a radio communication that could reach Asia, which was uncommon in that era. After the war was declared, the Allied forces marched toward the construction area and surrounded the tower. The Germans, who did not have an army in the area, tried to resist using the local police force and mercenaries, but in the end, they were outnumbered and left with no choice but to burn down the precious tower and surrender.
Tsingtao (now called Qingdao) was a port city in China. To understand how an East Asian country got involved in a European war, we have to trace things back to 1897, when two German missionaries were murdered and allowed Germany to force China into granting a 99-year lease on the Yellow Sea port in Tsingtao. The Chinese fishing village, through time, evolved into a modern city with infrastructures, schools, and a naval base, all created by the Germans. Moreover, it became a strategic outpost for Germany.
It was no surprise that when World War I broke out, its enemies found their way into the village to attack them, which were the Japanese and British forces. In preparation, Chinese laborers built fortifications all around Tsingtao’s perimeter. They also readied the artillery in position and dug trenches around.
Beginning August 27, 1914, the Japanese forces started a siege on the village, and for two months, they showered the area with bombs from planes and rained them with bullets on land. The German forces, with no reinforcements, were pretty much helpless in the hands of their Japanese enemies. Then, on November 7, the overwhelmed German forces finally surrendered. Four hundred fifty men died in what was known as the first encounter between the Japanese and German troops and the only major land battle in East Asia during WWI.
A different battle was fought in what was nicknamed the Nurse of the Mediterranean.
At the time of the First World War, Malta was a British colony, which automatically sided them with the Allies. In the beginning, the tiny island of Malta was not involved in the fighting that solely happened on the Eastern or Western Front.
Things changed when the Entente powers, composed of Russia, France, and Britain, attempted to weaken the Ottoman Empire by taking control of the Turkish Straits and failed in what was known as the Gallipoli campaign. Malta’s location, far from the battlezone, made it an ideal place to be the “hospital” during the fighting. Moreover, the island was known for its rich medical tradition that could be traced back more than 500 years.
During the Gallipoli campaign, as described in an article written by the Independent,
136,121 wounded or sick soldiers were treated in Malta. An average of 2,000 wounded soldiers started arriving in Malta from the front every week, while the record for the most patients treated in one day stands at an astonishing 20,994. Malta had, at its peak, 27 hospitals with 334 medical officers, 913 nurses, and 25,000 beds to provide optimum care to those arriving from the front.
Many of the wounded being brought were Australians. The majority had new and unprecedented horrific injuries brought about by the industrialization of weapons used in the war, like machine guns, tanks, and bombs dropped by airplanes. As a result, the traditional way of treating the wounds did not always work, and the doctors were also unsure how to handle the injuries.
Alexander Fleming would not discover penicillin until 13 years later, and without antibiotics, soldiers often died of sepsis, although thousands still recovered, thanks to the caring Nurse of the Mediterranean.