WW1 Battlefront

The WW1 Battlefront (1914 – 1918)

Here are examples of our WW1 Battlefront displays and portrayals.


The 1st Battalion The Devonshire Regiment

In August 1914, on the outbreak of the First World War, the Devonshire Regiment had two Regular battalions, one Special Reserve battalion and three battalions of Territorials (part-time volunteers).  During the war they expanded and incorporated the two Devon Yeomanry regiments to form twenty-four battalions and a single company, which served within the 1st Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry in North Russia in 1919.

Ten battalions of the Devon Regiment fought in France and Belgium, Mesopotamia, Salonika, Macedonia, Egypt, Palestine, Italy and in North Russia.  They lost more than 6,000 men killed and about three times that number wounded.  Some were Regular soldiers, some Territorials.  Most were volunteers and conscripts.  Many came from Devon but many did not.  Between them they won sixty new battle honours, two Victoria Crosses and 1265 other gallantry awards and mentions in Despatches. All wore the Devonshire Regiment star and helped to earn Devon’s county regiment a reputation second to none.


More information can be found on the regimental history page  Devon and Dorsets Museum


The 2nd Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers

The Lancashire Fusiliers raised 30 Battalions during WW1 and were awarded 63 Battle Honours and 6 Victoria Crosses, losing 13,640 men during the course of the war. From 1915 to October 1916 the famous author J. R. R. Tolkien served as a second leutenant in the 11th Battalion of the Regiment until he contracted ‘trench fever’ during the Battle of the Somme.


Royal Engineers (RE) Driver

Middle Eastern Theatre

The war of 1914-1918 relied on engineering. Without engineers there would have been no supply to the armies, because the RE’s maintained the railways, roads, water supply, bridges and transport. RE’s also operated the railways and inland waterways. There would have been no communications, because the RE’s maintained the telephones, wireless and other signalling equipment. There would have been little cover for the infantry and no positions for the artillery, because the RE’s designed and built the front-line fortifications. It fell to the technically skilled RE’s to develop responses to chemical and underground warfare. And finally, without the RE’s the infantry and artillery would have soon been powerless, as they maintained the guns and other weapons. Little wonder that the Royal Engineers grew into a large and complex organisation.

The Middle Eastern theatre of World War I saw action between 29 October 1914 and 30 October 1918. The combatants were, on one side, the Ottoman Empire (including Kurds and some Arab tribes), with some assistance from the other Central Powers; and on the other side, the British (with the help of Jews, Greeks, Assyrians and the majority of the Arabs, along with Indians under its empire), the Russians (with the help of Armenians) and the French from among the Allied Powers. There were five main campaigns: the Sinai and Palestine Campaign, the Mesopotamian Campaign, the Caucasus Campaign, the Persian Campaign, and the Gallipoli Campaign. There were also several minor campaigns: the Senussi Campaign, Arab Campaign, and South Arabia Campaign.

Both sides used local asymmetrical forces in the region. On the Allied side were Arabs who participated in the Arab Revolt and the Armenian militia who participated in the Armenian Resistance during the Armenian Genocide; along with Armenian volunteer units, the Armenian militia formed the Armenian Corps of the First Republic of Armenia in 1918. In addition, the Assyrians joined the Allies following the Assyrian genocide, instigating the Assyrian war of independence. The Turkish Ottomans had the support of Kurds (until 1915), Turcomans, Circassians, Chechens and a number of Iranian, Arab and Berber groups. The theatre covered the largest territory of all theatres in the war.

Russian participation in the theatre ended as a result of the Armistice of Erzincan (5 December 1917), after which the revolutionary Russian government withdrew from the war under the terms of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (3 March 1918). The Armenians attended the Trabzon Peace Conference (14 March 1918) which resulted in the Treaty of Batum on 4 June 1918. The Ottomans accepted the Armistice of Mudros with the Allies on 30 October 1918, and signed the Treaty of Sèvres on 10 August 1920 and later the Treaty of Lausanne on 24 July 1923.


Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD)

The Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) was a voluntary unit of civilians providing nursing care for military personnel in the United Kingdom and various other countries in the British Empire. The most important periods of operation for these units were during World War I and World War II. Although VADs were intimately bound up in the war effort, they were not strictly speaking military nurses, as they were not under the control of the military.

The VAD nurses worked in both field hospitals, i.e., close to the battlefield, and longer-term places of recuperation back in Britain.

The VAD system was founded in 1909 with the help of the Red Cross and Order of St. John. By the summer of 1914 there were over 2,500 Voluntary Aid Detachments in Britain. Of the 74,000 VAD members in 1914, two-thirds were women and girls.

At the outbreak of the First World War VAD members eagerly offered their service to the war effort. The British Red Cross was reluctant to allow civilian women a role in overseas hospitals: most volunteers were of the middle and upper classes and unaccustomed to hardship and traditional hospital discipline. Military authorities would not accept VADs at the front line.

Katharine Furse took two VADs to France in October 1914, restricting them to serve as canteen workers and cooks. Caught under fire in a sudden battle the VADs were pressed into emergency hospital service and acquitted themselves well. The growing shortage of trained nurses opened the door for VADs in overseas military hospitals. Furse was appointed commander-in-chief of the detachments and restrictions were removed. Female volunteers over the age of twenty-three and with more than three months’ hospital experience were accepted for overseas service.

By 1916 the military hospitals at home were employing about 8,000 trained nurses with about 126,000 beds, and there were 4,000 nurses abroad with 93,000 beds. By 1918 there were about 80,000 VAD members: 12,000 nurses working in the military hospitals and 60,000 unpaid volunteers working in auxiliary hospitals of various kinds. Some of the volunteers had a snobbish attitude towards the paid nurses.

VADs were an uneasy addition to military hospitals’ rank and order. They lacked the advanced skill and discipline of trained professional nurses and were often critical of the nursing profession. Relations improved as the war stretched on: VAD members increased their skill and efficiency and trained nurses were more accepting of the VADs’ contributions. During four years of war 38,000 VADs worked in hospitals and served as ambulance drivers and cooks. VADs served near the Western Front and in Mesopotamia and Gallipoli. VAD hospitals were also opened in most large towns in Britain.Later, VADs were also sent to the Eastern Front. They provided an invaluable source of bedside aid in the war effort. Many were decorated for distinguished service.

At the end of the war, the leaders of the nursing profession were agreed that untrained VADs should not be allowed onto the newly established register of nurses.

Notable VAD nurses

  • Enid Bagnold, British author of the novel National Velvet, on which the 1944 film with Elizabeth Taylor was based. Her account of her experiences are related in her memoir A Diary Without Dates published in 1918.
  • Vera Brittain, British author of the best-selling 1933 memoir Testament of Youth, recounting her experiences during World War I
  • Agatha Christie, British author who briefly details her VAD experiences in her posthumously published Autobiography
  • Lady Ursula d’Abo, English author who details her VAD experiences in her memoir titled The Girl with the Widow’s Peak: The Memoirs
  • E. M. Delafield, British author of the “Diary of a Provincial Lady” series and some 30 other novels; her experiences working at the Exeter VAD Hospital provided her with material for one of her most popular novels, The War Workers, published in 1918 
  • Mollie Skinner (under the nom de plume R. E. Leake) wrote Letters of a V.A.D. (London: Andrew Melrose, 1918)


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