11 Sobering Facts about the First World War in Europe commons.wikimedia.org
Poppies Field in Flanders

The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 marked the end of hostilities of the First World War. WWI had far reaching implications for Europe, and the peace arrangements which followed what was meant to be the war to end all wars sowed the seeds for the Second World War just 20 years later.

100 years since the outbreak of WWI it seems unthinkable that European countries would go to war against each other, and this is in no small measure thanks to the ties that bind us under the European Union. In the comfort of a (mostly) peaceful continent, it is all too easy to forget the atrocities of the Great War and just how devastating this war was. While the war was fought on every ocean and almost every continent, most of the fighting took place in Europe.

1.  65 million people fought in WWI. Between 1914 and 1918, more than 17 million men and women lost their lives as a direct result of the conflict. Over 10 million soldiers died on the battlefields and 7 million civilians were killed.

2. Average life expectancy in the trenches was about six weeks.

3. An estimated 2 million soldiers died as a result of illness and disease, and a further 6 million went missing or were taken prisoner.  21 million troops were wounded in the conflict.

4. Germany was the country with the most military deaths, an estimated 2.1 million deaths.

5. Russia was the country with the highest total death toll, with around 3.8 million civilian and military casualties. Russia mobilised 12 million troops during WWI, making it the largest army in the war. More than three quarters of its servicemen were killed, wounded, or went missing in action.

6. Serbia saw the highest percentage of its population killed, around 16.11%.

7. 750,000 British servicemen were killed during the war, while 250,000 British soldiers suffered a partial or full amputation as a result of fighting in the First World War.

8. Around 11% of the population of France was killed or wounded during the war. Of all French soldiers mobilised around 70% were killed or wounded, amounting to over 6 million casualties.

9. Over a million soldiers were killed in the Battle of the Somme alone, including about 60,000 British soldiers in just one day. By the end of the battle, in November 1916, the British had lost 420,000, the French lost nearly 200,000 men and the Germans 500,000.

10.  More than 500,000 soldiers lost their lives in the 3rd Battle of Ypres in just three months of fighting.

11.  During WWI, hundreds of thousands of Armenians died when the Ottoman Turks deported them en masse from eastern Anatolia to the Syrian desert and elsewhere in 1915-16. They were killed or died from starvation or disease.


In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

In Flanders Fields by John McCrae (May 1915)