The First World War: Facts From The Trenches
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.
Imagine not being able to fall asleep for the rest of your life. The thought fills me with both a mixture of excitement (think of all the awesome things you can get up to if you have an extra eight hours in every day!) and dread. Time would drag, wouldn't it? Well, this is exactly what happened to Paul Kern, a Hungarian soldier during World War One.
He was shot in the head; remarkably he survived, but the frontal lobe in his brain was badly damaged. From that point forward, he was unable to fall asleep for the rest of his life. As extraordinary as it sounds, it didn't hinder him in any way, as he survived for years afterwards!
During the course of World War One, numerous initiatives were launched to try and fool the Germans, wasting their time and resources as well as sending them chasing shadows. One of the biggest and most ambitious projects which the French undertook was to build a fake version of Paris, the French capital city.
Relatively close to the real city, long railways and roads were built with the sole purpose of fooling German pilots flying overhead. At night this fake city was lit in the hope that a German bomber flying overhead would mistake it for the real deal and destroy the fake city. If a bomb hit, the only destruction would be to fake buildings, roads and railways, rather than causing any loss of life. It was a genius plan which undoubtedly saved thousands of lives.
Shell shock treatment
I'd like to think that most of us are familiar with the basics of shell shock, and we understand just how traumatic a condition it was. The horrors of war meant that millions of soldiers from all around the world were affected by shell shock, but sadly it was a condition that wasn't understood at the time at all. Instead, soldiers suffering from shell shock were often seen as cowards, shying away from the realities of war. There are even reports of someone saying that shell shock was a 'manifestation of childishness and femininity' - and the person that said that was a doctor, no less.
With this in mind, it's not surprising (although it's still unacceptable) that some of the treatments for shell shock were inhumane to say the least. Massages, marches, athletics, hypnosis and even the highly controversial electro-shock therapy were all common treatment methods; sometimes psychoanalysis was offered to higher ranking officers.
It's understandable that medical advances progress over time, and that not much was known about certain conditions in the past. However, the thought that this sort of treatment was going on for some of the bravest, most selfless, most vulnerable people in society just 100 years ago is mind-boggling. Thank goodness that attitudes towards mental health and invisible war wounds have changed since then!
The French mutiny
If you thought that all countries involved in the war had their armies fighting for them wholeheartedly 100% of the time, you'd be mistaken. In fact, France was one of the central countries involved in the conflict because so much of the fighting was done on French soil. However, in May 1917 the French army suffered a mutiny which involved about half its troops.
This might seem shocking, but the reasons for it are understandable. Over a million French lives had been lost so far, and the side was suffering terrible defeats. In a situation like this, it's hardly surprising that morale was so low and people decided to act. Over 20,000 French soldiers deserted, while others just chose to ignore orders which they received.
This is a sore subject which the French were not keen to broadcast, which meant that they couldn't punish their soldiers too harshly. Killing and punishing thousands of deserting troops would have brought too much attention their way, so in the end only 500 men were given the death sentence. However, only one in ten of those men actually ended up being executed. Instead, the powers that be brought sweeping reforms across the French army to restore order and morale, including more leave and the sacking of the Commander-in-Chief.