The First World War: Facts From The Trenches
One hundred years ago, Europe was in the midst of fighting one of the biggest, most influential wars the world had ever seen. World War One – or the Great War – was meant to be over by the Christmas of 1914, but it ended up lasting years. The war finally ended on November 11, 1918; the events of those years have shaped history.
In addition to all the famous events that we've read about in the history books, there are countless fascinating facts that go unnoticed all too often. Here are some of the most interesting and unusual facts about World War One that you probably haven't heard before.
Native Americans and African Americans served in WW1
I was astounded to discover that despite the fact that over 13,000 Native Americans served their country during World War One, it took another five years after the end of the year before they were granted citizenship status. Yes, it's better late than never, but the fact that they were willing to fight and sacrifice their lives shows their true courage and bravery - which should have deserved instant recognition. Over 200,000 African Americans also fought in the US Army.
WW1 sparked the invention of plastic surgery
Plastic surgery might seem like a very modern field of medicine, but in fact it was brought about by the events of World War One. Some of the fighting was so horrific and the injuries so traumatizing that it caused life-changing disfigurements for thousands of unfortunate soldiers.
Harold Gillies was a surgeon who was so shocked by some of the facial injuries that he saw that he decided to do something about it. As a result, he began pioneering some of the techniques for facial reconstruction surgery that have developed into the plastic surgery that we know today. When you think about the terrible injuries caused by bombs, gunshots and flying shrapnel that set the plastic surgery ball rolling, that new nose or bigger pair of boobs doesn't seem quite so important anymore, does it?
Blood banks were developed during WW1
During World War One, a total of over 37 million people were killed or injured. It was an incredibly bloody, gruesome battle. As a result, it's hardly surprising that doctors and nurses used blood transfusions in the treatment of thousands of casualties.
The very first blood bank was introduced by US Army Captain Oswald Robertson in 1917, where sodium citrate was used to stop the blood from thickening and clotting before it could be used. The blood was kept fresh for up to 28 days by being stored with ice, before being shipped out to save lives.
This sounds pretty basic and primitive, especially considering that it was only 100 years ago, but if Robertson hadn't developed this system, the casualty rate wouldn't even bear thinking about. I'm pretty sure that without these early blood banks, the current state of our medical care would be a lot less reliable, too.
The Chinese Labour Corps
We know quite a lot about the soldiers who fought during the war, and even those people who stayed behind on home soil. However, I don't know about you, but I'd never really given much thought to who made the preparations so that everything was ready for the soldiers at the front line. Who dug the trenches? Who arranged the supplies?
These days we read all about the Allies and the Germans, but nobody ever seems to mention some of the other nationalities which were instrumental in the war effort. Today, I'm going to change that.
In fact, 140,000 Chinese people served on the Western Front during the five year conflict. They were hired by both the French and British forces to dig the trenches and perform various other manual labour tasks on the front line, thus allowing the soldiers to focus on the fighting instead of maintaining their dwellings. Together, they were known as the Chinese Labour Corps, and they have become some of the unsung heroes of the World War One Allied movement.
Alvin Cullum York
It's a shame that more people aren't familiar with the name Alvin Cullum York, considering that he was the most decorated American man to have served in World War One. His achievements are too many to list here, but I have to mention the event for which he is best known. He led an attack on the Germans, killing and capturing an incredible 160 enemy soldiers in the process. He also took control of over 30 German machine guns, which was a tremendous victory.
As a result of his actions he was promoted to Sergeant - and rightly so - as well as receiving awards on both sides of the pond. As well as a reward of farmland he was awarded both the Congressional Medal of Honor and the French Croix de Guerre, which firmly marked his name in the history books.