Posts Tagged ‘First World War’

100 Years Ago This Week: “It’s War!”

America in WWI Research Topic

America in World War I Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

Calling all History teachers!  Don’t let this week go by without talking to your students about World War I. This Thursday, April 6, marks the 100th anniversary of the United States’ declaration of war on Germany. On April 2nd, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson had asked Congress for the declaration, stating that it would be a “war to end all wars” and that it would “make the world safe for democracy.” All-out war had been raging in Europe since August 1914. Wilson had kept America out of the fighting, even after the sinking of the Lusitania in May 1915, which had 128 Americans on board. Germany had resumed unrestricted submarine (U-Boat) warfare on all commercial ships heading toward Britain.  In addition, British Intelligence intercepted a secret German diplomatic communication, called the Zimmermann Telegram, which proposed a military alliance between Germany and Mexico. These events, plus the fact that the United States had loaned massive amounts of money to the allies and feared it would not get that money back if the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria) won, tipped the scales in favor of war.

Tom Young Mason Draft Card

Thomas Young Mason Draft Registration Card [Ancestry Library via ProQuest]

The Selective Service Act was signed May 18, 1917. In the United States, over 9-and-a half million men, ages 21 to 31, signed up at their local draft boards. One of those men was my grandfather, Thomas Young Mason. Tom was a 30-year-old farmer from Logan County, Kentucky, when he signed his draft card on June 5, 1917. The reason I know this is because I found a copy of his draft card while searching AncestryLibrary.com, available via ProQuest. I was surprised at how easy it was to find information about my grandfather. I can’t say that I know a lot about his time during the Great War. He died years before I was born, and my family never was much for telling war stories. I do, however, have some nice photographs of him in his WWI uniform. I also have, at home in my basement, the very hat he was wearing in those photos.

Thomas Young Mason (1886-1953)

WWI Photo of Thomas Young Mason [Image Courtesy Blog Author]

Grandma & Grandpa Mason

Grandma & Grandpa Mason [Photo Courtesy Blog Author]








My grandfather was one of the lucky ones who made it home from the War. Europeans bore the brunt of the casualties with 9 million military men killed and over 30 million wounded. World War I was one of the most tragic events in modern world history, and the “peace” that was reached at its end led directly to the Second World War.

eLibrary has many resources teachers can use to explain this momentous time in world History. A really good high school lesson plan called “Wilson & American Entry into World War I” can be found at EDSITEment!, a National Endowment for the Humanities website.  While you and your students are conducting research on this topic, don’t forget to check out ProQuest’s awesome Trench Journals and Unit Magazines of the First World War, a digital collection of writings produced near the trenches and on the home front.  During this 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into World War I, it might be a good idea to take some time out from your regular class assignments and get your students involved in a discussion on this timely topic. One idea would be to have your class watch the American Experience documentary The Great War,” which premieres on PBS April 10.


While Woodrow Wilson often gets credit for the phrase “the war to end all wars,” delivered during his April 1917 speech before Congress, many historians assume that he got the idea from a 1914 book by H.G. Wells entitled “The War That Will End War.”

The United States officially declared war on Austria-Hungary on December 7, 1917. Twenty-four years later, on December 7, 1941, FDR asked Congress for a declaration of war against the Empire of Japan, marking America’s entry into World War II.


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Above the Dreamless Dead: Interview with Editor Chris Duffy

Here we are, right in the middle of the 100th anniversary of World War I (1914-1918). Those of you who read these blogs may have noticed that eLibrary has been posting occasional entries relating to various topics of the “Great War.” I have been perusing many articles and books about the First World War and was searching around on Amazon for something else to read when I came across the book “Above the Dreamless Dead.” It is a unique mixture of poems from the Trench Poets of World War I and artwork from today’s finest cartoonists. The collection was edited by New York Times bestselling editor Chris Duffy. Thinking that this book would be a great resource to use in schools for teaching both history and poetry, I reached out to First Second Books for an interview with Mr. Duffy.  Here are the questions and responses from that interview:

Editor Chris Duffy of First Second Books

Chris Duffy of First Second Books [Photo Used by Permission]


1. First of all, what made you want to compile a book of WWI poetry in graphic form?


2. Have you always been interested in WWI?          [Mr. Duffy answered both questions at once]



Mr. Duffy: The idea came from editor Calista Brill at First Second. She called me up one day and said “We have this idea for a book to round out our season.” She described the idea of current cartoonists adapting the work of the Trench Poets as part of the centennial of the start of World War I. She asked if maybe I would edit it, but she had someone else in mind if I said no. I thought it was a pretty bad idea at first and I almost passed–I mean, what do we have in common today with men who lived in muddy trenches and watched their buddies die (and who died) a hundred years ago? Didn’t seem like a great fit with the cartoonists I know, who are for the most part sheltered from war. Then I started reading a lot of World War I poetry just to see. There’s a lot of it, the best of it is amazing, and all of it is compelling–and I started to really see how visual and narrative a lot of it was/ is. Then I started thinking about cartoonists who have spent their careers engaging with war and related themes–Pat Mills, Sarah Glidden, George Pratt, Peter Kuper, Garth Ennis, just to name a few. The project started seeming like a GREAT idea. In the end, I think the book is both about the poetry and about cartoonists of today engaging with the past and with a specific group of writers.

3. Why do you think that WWI has been a neglected topic in classrooms over the decades?

Mr. Duffy: I really don’t know, but I’m asked that a lot. I think people feel a distance there and want to bridge it. I highly recommend anyone read the work of the war poets and writers to bridge not only the distance between them and the past, but with them and soldiers in general.

4. What is your favorite WWI poem?

Mr. Duffy: “As the Team’s Head Brass” by Edward Thomas. It’s a home front poem. A soldier, probably Thomas, watches a ploughman at work and every time he passes by they exchange some words–about the war, the weather, the tree that fell that the ploughman can’t remove because all the younger men are at war. It’s an everyday scene but the poem is about life, death, alternate worlds, young love, death, and maybe a great tragedy to come. I believe it’s Seamus Heany’s favorite World War I poem, so I feel pretty good about my choice. It didn’t make it into the book; several cartoonists turned it down when offered. Maybe I should have pushed harder!

5Who is your favorite WWI-era poet?

Mr. Duffy: Isaac Rosenberg, Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, and Edward Thomas. But it’s hard to choose.

"Above the Dreamless Dead" from First Second Books

“Above the Dreamless Dead” [Image Used by Permission of First Second Books]


6Are you yourself a graphic artist?

Mr. Duffy: I draw and make comics, but not professionally.

7. Any ideas on how educators could use Above the Dreamless Dead to get the discussion started with students concerning both poetry and WWI?

Mr. Duffy: I think it would be a good follow up to a unit on World War I–maybe the students could read one poem, talk about it, and then look at the adaptation and discuss the choices the cartoonist made. I also think it’s a good opportunity for students to research one poet–his life, war experience, and career. In one way or another World War I was a huge part of every one of the poet’s lives. In many cases it ended their life. But I’m not a teacher, so beware of these tossed-off suggestions!

8. Why do you think WWI inspired such an outpouring of poetry, whereas other wars do not seem to have generated such literary creativity, especially in poetic form?

Mr. Duffy: I don’t know. I postulate that poetry was something read and written by more people at that time than after. I have also read that this was the first generation of young British men to benefit from big education reforms–the average soldier would have been more literate than in previous wars. But I don’t know the whole story about why!

9If you could go back in time and say something to one of these Trench poets, what would it be?

Mr. Duffy: That’s a little too ahistorical for me. We can’t go back in time. You have to read to learn about them.

10. With the tremendous amount of poetry produced during and after WWI, are there any more such anthologies in the works?

Mr. Duffy: I hope so! Not by me, but I think poetry is a rich topic for cartoonists.

(Thanks to Chris Duffy and a special thanks to Gina Gaglinao of First Second Books for setting up the interview.)

The best review I can give for the book is this: I was in my basement reading it when my son Josh, who has ZERO interest in poetry but likes comic books, stopped and asked what I was reading.  I told him a little about the book and showed it to him. He said something like, “Hmmm. Interesting.” Later that evening, when I walked past his room, I saw him sitting in his “gaming chair” reading “Above the Dreamless Dead.”

If you wish to contact First Second Books to ask about ordering this book for your classroom or school library, please follow this link:   First Second Books

During this 100th anniversary of World War I, please use the many resources available in ProQuest’s eLibrary to learn more about the War to End All Wars:

America and World War I (Research Topic)

British Poets of World War I (Research Topic)

Canada and World War I (Research Topic)

Canadian Poets of World War I (Research Topic)

Common Core ELA: History/Social Studies (Research Topic)

Common Core ELA: Reading Literature (Research Topic)

Poetry (Research Topic)

ProQuest Research Topic Guide: World War I (Research Topic)

Trench Journals and Unit Magazines of the First World War (ProQuest)

Trench Warfare of World War I (Research Topic)

World War I: A History in Documents (Reference Book)

And just some of the Research Topics for WWI-era poets:

Rupert Brooke, John McCrae, Robert Graves,

Wilfred Owen, Isaac Rosenberg and Siegfried Sassoon

100th Anniversary of the Battle of Jutland

Battle of Jutland Research Topic

Battle of Jutland Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

One could say that the World War I Battle of Jutland (May 31-June 1, 1916) actually began way back in 1906. In that year, the British Royal Navy launched the HMS Dreadnought, a battleship so awesome that it revolutionized naval warfare and sea power overnight. Germany, not wanting to be outdone by Great Britain, began rolling out its own Dreadnoughts, intensifying a naval arms race between the two countries. They had to wait 10 years before they would encounter each other in an actual naval battle. The First World War was already into its second year when Sir John Jellicoe of the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet received intelligence that the German High Seas Fleet, under command of Admiral Reinhard von Scheer, was steaming into the North Sea.

German Admiral Scheer

Reinhard von Scheer via Library of Congress [Public Domain]

Sir John Jellicoe

Sir John Jellicoe via Library of Congress [Public Domain]









The two opposing fleets met near the coast of Denmark’s Jutland Peninsula on May 31, 1916. The British had superiority in numbers with 151 warships against 99 German vessels. Germany, however, took the early advantage. In quick succession, both the Royal Navy’s Queen Mary and the Indefatigable were destroyed. Out of a 1,275-man crew, only 9 sailors survived the sinking of the Queen Mary, while only 2 sailors from the 1,019-man crew of the Indefatigable were rescued. Later on, the tide of the battle turned, and Germany was on the defensive. As day broke on June 1, the German fleet had slipped past Jellicoe and the battle was over. Both sides claimed victory, but the Royal Navy still maintained naval superiority with 24 battleships ready to sail, while Germany only had 10 that were seaworthy. In all, England lost 6,094 sailors while Germany lost 2,551. In the wake of Jutland, Scheer pressed for the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare against the British blockade.


“The First Battle Squadron of Dreadnoughts” via Wikimedia Commons [Public Domain]

No tale of the Battle of Jutland would be complete without mentioning “Jutland” Jack Cornwell. He was posthumously awarded Britain’s highest medal for outstanding bravery. Jack was a 16-year-old seaman aboard the HMS Chester. On the first day of the battle, his ship came under intense fire from four German cruisers. Cornwell was mortally wounded by exploding shells, but remained with his gun crew. Later, medics arrived on deck to find Jack the sole survivor at his gun, shards of steel embedded in his chest, looking through the gun sights and still waiting for orders. He died the next day. Jack’s mother received his Victoria Cross for heroism personally from King George V.

Jutland Jack Cornwell

“Jutland” Jack Cornwell via Wikimedia Commons [Public Domain]

May 31 is the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Jutland. You can learn more about this and other World War I topics by searching the many resources available in eLibrary.

Don’t forget to check out ProQuest’s Trench Journals and Unit Magazines of the First World War, an unprecedented digital collection of a vast body of writing, by and for the serving men and women of every combatant nation, that has lain hidden in libraries and archives around the world, until now.


100th Anniversary of the Battle of Verdun

Battle of Verdun Research Topic

Battle of Verdun Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

February 21, 2016, marked the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the bloodiest battle in world history. After the First Battle of the Marne, where Kaiser Wilhelm’s armies almost reached the gates of Paris before being repulsed, Germany remained on the defensive behind an almost impregnable line of trenches while the French and British threw themselves in vain against it at a staggering cost in lives. Only once did the Germans deviate from this strategy, and that was at Verdun. In terms of the armies involved, the Battle of Verdun began as a relatively “small affair,” but quickly turned into an epic “Blutbad.” This “grimmest battle in all that grim war” is now considered to be the longest battle of all time (303 days) and gained the reputation of being the battlefield with the highest density of dead per square yard that has ever been known. Before this battle, Germany had a chance of winning the war. When it was over, neither the French nor the German armies were the same. The battle, midway between the beginning of the Great War in 1914 and the Armistice in 1918, marked a turning point.

Henri Philippe Petain

Henri Philippe Petain [Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]

Erich von Falkenhayn

Erich von Falkenhayn [Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]










Compared to the casualties in our modern wars (Vietnam and both Iraq wars, for instance), the numbers of injuries and deaths from just this one battle are almost unimaginable. Estimates from after the war found a total of over 700,000 casualties (377,000 French and 337,000 German), an average of 70,000 casualties for each month of the battle. More recent estimates place the overall casualty number at 976,000. Verdun, located near the Meuse in France, was of great historical and military significance to the French. German commander Erich von Falkenhayn’s aim of the campaign (code-named “Judgement”) was to bleed the French army dry at Verdun and capture Fort Douaumont and Fort Vaux. French Commander-in-Chief Joseph Joffre issued a statement noting that any commander who gave ground to the advancing Germans would be court-martialed. Pledging to Joffre that the Germans “shall not pass,” General Henri Philippe Petain took personal control of the defense. He also created an effective supply route, designing a 50-mile road that ferried troops and ammunition to the Verdun battlefield. This became known to the French as the “la Voie Sacree,” the Sacred Road.

Battle of Verdun 1916

Battle of Verdun 1916 [Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]

The casualties from Verdun and the impact of the battle on the French army was the primary reason the British initiated the Battle of the Somme in July 1916. By the end of October 1916, the French had re-captured the two forts at Vaux and Douaumont, but the surrounding countryside where the battle had been fought since February was a wasteland. The only real effect of the battle (which ended December 18, 1916) was the depletion of both armies. After the loss of nearly 1 million men, no tactical or strategic advantage was gained by either side.

Voie Sacree (Sacred Road)

Monument of the Voie Sacree [Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]

German Document Given To the Family of a Verdun Casualty

Battle of Verdun Document [Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]









This February, use the many resources in eLibrary to research this grim but fascinating period in world history.


DK Eyewitness World War I (Reference Book)

eLibrary Research Topics

Journal of Military History (Scholarly Journal)

MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History (Magazine)

Military History (Magazine)

World War I eLibrary Topic Search

World War I: A History in Documents (Reference Book)

Teaching Tip: In conjunction with eLibrary resources, teachers could also use the great WWI film Paths of Glory (1957). Directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring Kirk Douglas, this film more than even “All Quiet on the Western Front” shows the senseless brutality witnessed on the Western Front.


Christmas Truce of 1914

While Christmas 2014 has come and gone, it might be a good time to stop and remember one of the most remarkable events in the history of modern warfare: the unofficial Christmas Truce of 1914.

German & British Soldiers During the Christmas Truce of 1914

German & British Soldiers During the Christmas Truce of 1914 [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

By December of 1914, World War I had already turned into a horrific war of attrition. French, Belgian and British forces faced off against German soldiers along the Western front. The stalemate led to both sides digging a maze-like network of trenches that stretched for hundreds of miles across the French and Belgian countryside.

On Christmas Eve, 1914, the guns along many areas of the front fell silent. Stories differ as to how the truces began, but many witnesses said that French soldiers saw lighted trees from the German trenches. Then they began to hear songs, particularly “Stille Nacht.” British & French troops replied with their own versions of “Silent Night.”

Christmas Truce of 1914 Research Topic

Christmas Truce of 1914 Research Topic [Screencap via eLibrary]

Eventually, unarmed German soldiers walked out into the area between the trenches known as “No-Man’s Land.” Seeing that it was not a trap, French, British and Belgian soldiers began to do the same. Both sides met out in No-Man’s Land and shook hands, exchanged gifts of tobacco, food and personal mementos. There are stories of impromptu soccer games being played. Both sides also took this time to bury their dead, and joint burial services were held.

The truce lasted all night and throughout Christmas Day and in some places until New Year’s Day. After a week, the shooting resumed with 6,000 deaths each day for the next 46 months. There were no more Christmas Truces for the rest of the war. Generals on both sides issued strict orders to prevent them.

Find out more about the Christmas Truce of 1914 and other World War I topics in eLibrary.

First Battle of the Marne, September 6-12, 1914

In August 1914, Germany invaded Belgium and the northern part of France. According to its Schlieffen Plan, Germany would sweep down through Belgium into France, delivering a knock-out blow to France in only six weeks. Then Germany planned to turn its attention to Russia in the East.

Battle of the Marne

ProQuest eLibrary Research Topic

The German army stormed within 30 miles of Paris. As the Germans neared the city, Paris prepared for a siege. French Commander-in-Chief Joseph Joffre ordered a counter-offensive strike beginning on the morning of September 6. The counter-attack, along France’s Marne River, created a 30-mile-wide gap in the German lines. The Allies sent troops from the British Expeditionary Force to join the French Army in pouring through the gap. On September 7, over 6,000 French reserve infantry troops were driven from Paris to the front lines in streams of taxi cabs.

Soldiers Manning a Machine Gun During the Battle of the Marne (1914)

Image by Archive Photos via ProQuest eLibrary

Aircraft Gunner During the Battle of the Marne

Image by Bridgeman Art via ProQuest eLibrary

On September 9, the German armies began a retreat. Casualties were heavy.  The outcome of the battle was that Paris was saved and the German advance was brought to a halt, but a tactical deadlock and trench warfare ensued, which would take more than 4 years and millions of lives to break.

The legacy of the battle was perhaps best summed up by Barbara W. Tuchman in her Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “The Guns of August”:

“The Battle of the Marne was one of the decisive battles of the world not because it determined that Germany would ultimately lose or the Allies ultimately win the war but because it determined that the war would go on. There was no looking back, Joffre told the soldiers on the eve. Afterward, there was no turning back.”

You can learn more about the Battle of the Marne and other World War I topics during this 100th anniversary of the beginning of the “Great War” by searching the many eLibrary resources that are available.


World War I: A History in Documents

Military History

MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History

U.S. History

Great Events of the 20th Century (Video)

The Reader’s Companion to Military History

The Journal of Military History

History of the World: True Stories of the Great War