It’s been a century since World War I ended. Can you believe it?
Way back in 2014, the World War 1 centenary celebrations began and now here we are already celebrating the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1!
While the upcoming World War I anniversary of 2018 is going to be the final one of them all (for the WW1 centenary events in 2018, at least), the events of “The Great War” should (and I hope will!) continue to carry on in our heads and our hearts.
That struggle was one of the greatest of the modern era, and it has had more impact on our lives than one might think…
Special offer: Check out our Commemorative 100th Anniversary World War Bundle!
A brief history of World War I
When I realized that THIS November 11 was the last of the official centennial World War 1 anniversaries in 2018, I concluded that I needed to do something to mark the occasion.
While there have been countless observances of WW1 events in 2018, this is arguably the most important one of them all. But before we talk about the end of this important struggle, let’s take a brief trip through the war itself.
The word “brief,” though, is very important to take into account. World War I is a vast and complex subject with many different stories, people, and events. What I want to try to do here is give some of the bullet points and the overall story of how the war took place.
The Outbreak of the War
On June 28, 1914, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, the heir to the Austria-Hungarian throne, was assassinated by a Serbian nationalist. While the assassination of any national leader is usually a big deal, this act, in particular, was one of the most consequential events in the history of the world.
Why? Because it started a deadly domino effect. A month later Austria-Hungary declared war on its small neighbor Serbia. Seeing the lopsided affair unfolding, Russia decided to join Serbia, prompting Germany to join the Austro-Hungarians.
Next thing you know, both France and Great Britain had joined Russia, and more and more small countries continued to jump into the fray.
The specifics here aren’t as important as the point that in the blink of an eye, all of Europe was at each other's throats over a single event.
It’s one of the most remarkable things about the entire war.
Into the Trenches
The early phase of the war, particularly the first full month of August, was a chaotic mess as old battlefield tactics ran into modern inventions. Many, and I mean many, soldiers died fighting above ground in bright colored outfits without helmets (they wouldn’t be used until later).
However, as the dust of the first month settled, and it became obvious that no one was going to win quickly, everyone began settling in for the long haul.
They began digging those infamous World War I contraptions: the trenches, and soon after that the armies, especially on the Western Front in France, became deadlocked in positions that would barely change over the next four years as the young men of Europe were systematically annihilated through the horrors of trench warfare.
The War Drags On
Over the next few years hopes swayed back and forth as first one side then the other came up with ways, some unique and others less so, to attempt to break the stalemate.
Some of the less unique things took the form of massive attacks “over the top” of the trenches, with masses of soldiers attempting to rush across the small “no man’s land” between the trench lines, an area that was always swept by the deadly accurate fire of the enemy’s rifles, machine guns, and artillery.
You can see a video of what these kinds of attacks might have looked like here.
Note: This video is a scene from the movie War Horse. It is not too graphic but is still a very intense battle sequence that may be too much for younger children to handle. Please use your discretion!
While charging between the trenches was a common practice (as fruitless as it ended up being), it wasn’t the only way that the armies of World War I fought each other.
Some of the more unique elements of the new tactic of trench warfare came in the form of things like the artillery barrage, the nefarious “gas attack” (which my own grandfather suffered from when he fought with the U.S. troops), and the clunky new mechanical invention of the tank, which began to make its mark on battlefields during the war.
Slowly, as the soldiers ground things out on the battlefield, it became apparent that Germany and its allies would eventually lose the war at the least by pure attrition. The allies (the countries fighting with Britain, France, and Russia) had over two times the overall population of the Central Powers (Germany and its allies), and it was just a matter of time before the latter would run out of steam.
The U.S. Joins the War
After attempting to remain neutral in the struggle, the United States finally jumped in on the side of the Allied Powers, after a telegram was intercepted between Germany and Mexico discussing an invasion of the U.S., were the U.S. to enter the war on the side of the allies.
On April 6, 1819, America declared war on the Central Powers, but by the time U.S. troops began to arrive in Europe, the war was rapidly approaching its end.
The Bitter End? ...or the Bitter Beginning?
Finally, Germany agreed to an armistice that was to take place at 11:00 AM on November 11, 1918, and it was at that point, at long last, that the violence and cruelty of the previous four years finally came to a close. At least for the present time.
In reality, when the two sides sat down to figure out the peace terms at the Treaty of Versailles, the resulting terms were so harsh towards the Central Powers that it left them crushed and struggling under the weight of paying for the cost of the war.
The ensuing years of economic struggle for Germany were directly responsible for the rise of politicians that spoke out against the injustice, rallying the support of suffering Germans to their cause. One of the most vocal of these rabble-rousers was a rising young politician named Adolf Hitler.
That’s right, Adolf Hitler largely came to power thanks to the results of World War I.
It’s because of this that many consider the two World Wars to really be one single conflict, simply interrupted by two decades of peace.
The History of Veterans Day
While the first World War “officially” ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, most people agree that it was really on November 11, 1918, that the war truly ended.
The Establishment of Armistice Day
November 11, 1918, is the agreed upon day, known to history as “Armistice Day,” on which the fighting would officially end, with the understanding that the peace treaty would follow. From that day forward no more attacks were ordered and the killing stopped.
The day was so important that in November of the next year, then-president Woodrow Wilson decided to remember Armistice Day as an official event.
His precise words regarding the occasion were as follows:
"To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…"
From there the day only became more and more important.
Many states declared November 11th to be a legal holiday, and in 1926 Congress passed a resolution that the whole nation should observe the day.
On May 13, 1938, the day officially became the national holiday known as “Armistice Day.”
The Change to Veterans Day
Of course, after 1938 a few pretty big events took place. World War II ended up being an even larger event than World War I, and by the mid-1950s the Korean War had also taken place.
Feeling the need to recognize more than just World War I (although that was still part of it!), in 1954 the First-World-War-specific word “Armistice” was replaced with the modern term “Veterans” Day.
That same year, President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered the first official “Proclamation 3071,” making the new holiday title official.
While the official day of November 11th was briefly changed for a few years in the late 60s and early 70s, it was returned to that sacred date and has since remained officially November 11, even if it is sometimes “observed” on a different day.
Commemorating the 100th Anniversary
Needless to say, while the anniversary of the end of World War I is already a big deal on its own, the thought that it’s also why we celebrate Veterans Day on November 11 is also amazing! It’s just another way that the important events of the past have managed to stay with us, even when we’re not aware of it.
But the truth is, we really SHOULD be aware of this! World War I — and World War II — should be major parts of both ours and our children’s education (Yes, us too. We need to continue learning about this as much as the next generation!).
It isn’t just a couple of major events in history. These two wars mark the “changing of the guard” from the old ways of the world into the modern era. They took a world that was old and traditional and violently launched it into the modern era.
In order to help keep the importance of the World Wars in the front of our minds, Home School in the Woods has pulled together a Commemorative 100th Anniversary World War Bundle (and at a bundle price, too!) that brings together all of the World War I and World War II hands-on projects we have in order to help keep this crucial part of history alive and well in our collective minds!
The bundle includes the following products and projects:
- WWII Time Traveler
- WWI: The Great War Lap Book/Notebook Project
- WWI: Military Weaponry Notebook Project
- The War to End All Wars File Folder Game
It’s the perfect way to honor this rare occasion with something that will both be visually interesting and interactive, and simultaneously teach the children a bit about these important historical events!
Let’s be Thankful this Veterans Day
As we prepare for the last of our 2018 WW1 commemorations, let’s keep in mind how much others have sacrificed in order to preserve our freedom, and let’s be thankful that we are able to commemorate this incredible anniversary in peace.
If you enjoyed the post, I would be so thankful if you could share it with anyone you know who might want to learn about The Great War that sparked so much history a hundred years ago.
Together we can keep this part of history alive and well!