The Great War

After September 1939, it is referred to as the "First World War".

This global conflict, which cost 16 million dead and 21 million wounded, was mainly caused by the different treaties and alliances between countries. It started in 1914 and finished in the West on November 11,1918 and in the East,well into the 1920s. After Napoleon was defeated in 1815, wars between countries remained local affairs, but that changed after the Franco-Prussian War,

when Otto von Bismarck, the Prime-Minister of Prussia, united the German States into one “German Reich”, with the King of Prussia as Kaiser Wilhelm l.
Serbia, on the Balkans, had for a long time tried to promote a pan-Slavic movement, which was very much opposed by the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.
Russia supported Serbia, as she was opposed to any further expansion of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.

Germany aligned with Austria to help her on the Balkans.

France feared Germany’s new militarism and as Russia needed French investment, they went together.

Britain did not like the naval expansion of the new Germany and therefore sided with the French.

So when on June 28, 1914 Archduke Ferdinand (Austria’s Crown Prince) was assassinated by Bosnian Serbs in Sarajevo (Austrian Territory), a match was found to light the flame.
Austria blamed Serbia for this and after an ultimatum was rejected, Austria declared war on Serbia and Austrian troops entered Serbia.
The Serbs defended themselves heroicly and here we see the Serbian King on the batlefield.
This caused Russia to mobilise her troops and as she also bordered onto Germany, Germany asked her to demobilise. Russia refused and Germany declared war onto Russia. Then Germany asked France to remain neutral, but France did not reply, so Germany declared war onto France. And so the war started.
Germany requested free passage through Belgium to execute their "Schlieffen plan", which called for German troops to travel through Belgium and attack France from the Atlantic side.

Belgium refused and put up fierce resistance.

The war on the Western Front.
On the first day of the German invasion August 4,1914, the battle of Liege (Luik) started and lasted until August 16, when the last fort surrendered.

A courageous soldier, Leon Tresignies, opened a bridge over a canal, that enabled a counter attack by the Belgian Forces. He was promoted to Corporal on the spot for doing it, but lost his life in the effort.

When the German army took Louvain (Leuven),they were so angry about the Belgian resistance, that they shot the Burgermaster, the Rector of the University and all police officers.Then they attended to the University, which was founded in 1425 and was the oldest University in the Low Countries. They drowned the library with gasoline and set fire to hundreds of thousands Gothic and Medieval manuscripts, that could never be replaced and are lost forever.
When Belgium gained her independence in 1839, Britain, as one of the "Great Powers", guaranteed her neutrality.

So when Germany invaded Belgium, England had to declare war onto Germany and send an Expeditionary Force over to the mainland, to help the Belgians.

At Furnes (Veurne), the Belgians were able to flood the land and so brought the German advance to a halt.

The King Albert Monument now stands on top of the Lock Gate at Furnes and many Belgian soldiers, that died here at the Yser front, are buried in Military Cemeteries nearby.

As the Germans went further south into French territory, they found that the Allies had dug themselves in along the Marne and the Western Front, which ran from the Atlantic coast to the Swiss border, was established, which would remain a stalemate for the next four years.

Belgium now was occupied by the Germans and some Belgian soldiers and members of the B.E.F who had escaped the German trap, went over the Dutch border, where they were interned for the rest of the war.

The Netherlands, which were neutral, created several camps for these soldiers and issued them with special stamps, so they could write home twice a month. After the fall of Antwerp, The Netherlands received over 100 000 civilian refugees and about 40.000 military personnel. All in all there were: 33.105 Belgians with 406 officers,1751 British with 139 officers, 1461 German with 68 officers, 8 French with 5 officers and 4 American officers. The French and American were from aircraft that had landed.
One of the greatest bloodlettings on the Western Front took place near Verdun, with 300 000 German casualties and 460 000 French. But the Germans never took the city. The battle lasted from February until August 1916.
On the right is "The Hero of Verdun”, Marshall Jean Philippe Pétain, who during the second world war, became the President of Vichy France. Amongst the German attackers was Lieutenant Friedrich von Paulus, who would 27 years later surrender the German 6th Army to the Russians at Stalingrad.

On the left we see the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, which is the Canadian National symbol of the sacrifice that the Canadian Expeditionary Force made at the battle of Vimy Ridge. The Canadians suffered 3598 dead and over 7000 wounded. They took the ridge and 4000 German prisoners.

John McCrae was a Lieutenant-Colonel with the Canadian Forces, who died in France in 1918. His famous poem “In Flander's Fields” goes as follows:“In Flander's fields the poppies grow 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 Flander's fields. Take up our quarrel with the foe: to you from failing hands we throw the Torch: be yours to hold it high ! If you break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep, though poppies grow in Flander's fields.
A famous Canadian flying ace was Billy Bishop, who is officially credited with 72 victories. He took part in the Battle of Vimy Ridge and besides his Victoria Cross, held 6 more awards.Most of the British Empire countries financed the war, by raising levies, as these two stamps show.
The New Zealand contribution to the war is usually mentioned together with the Anzacs, but if we separate the two, we find that:out of a population of 1.1 million people, 120 000 New Zealanders enlisted, of which 103 000 served overseas. It left a legacy of 18 000 dead and 55 000 wounded.
Here we see a New Zealand Staff Officer, a Navy Man and an Infantry Soldier, as they served in France.
Although India did not issue any special stamps, it deserves mentioning that in total 800 000 Indian troops fought in all theatres of the war, including Gallipoli, Middle East, North and East Africa. In all 47 746 men were killed and 65 000 wounded. The Indian Corps won 13 000 medals, including 12 Victoria Crosses.
Emile Augustin Driant was the first high ranking casualty of the Battle of Verdun. He died at the battle and was initially burried by the Germans, who wrote to his wife (via Switserland), that he had been burried with full Military Honours

Jean Baptiste Eugene Estienne was a French General of artillery and a specialist in military engineering. He is considered by many as the “Father of the tank”.

On May15, 1915 the rms "Lusitania" was sunk by a German Uboat (U20), 11 miles off the coast of Ireland. It took down with her 1198 of the 1959 people on board. Amongst these were 128 U.S. citizens.

After German U boats had sunk another 7 Merchant ships and Germany had tried to entice Mexico to declare war on the U.S (by promising her the states of Arizona and Texas) President Woodrow Wilson declared war on Germany in April 1917.

And this affected the whole of South America.

At the outbreak of the war in 1914, Brasil was neutral. When however, in April 1917, the Brazilian ship "Paranha", loaded with coffee, was torpedoed by a U boat and Brasillians lost their lives, Brasil broke off relations with Germany. She then confiscated 42 German ships in Brasillian ports and declared war on the Central Powers. Brasil sent a medical mission, pilots to join the Allied airforce and an Army regiment to join the French Army at the Western front.
Bolivia and Urugay severed diplomatic relations with the Central Powers

and so did Ecuador and Peru.

Cuba entered World War One as a moral obligation to the USA, one day after the US entered the war. If Cuba had remained neutral, Cuban ports would have been closed to all nations at war. And Cuba's trade was mainly with the US and she did supply several product for the war effort.

Haiti severed diplomatic relations with Germany on June 17, 1917. It eventually declared war on Germany, but was one of the last to do so.

Guatemala had over the last 20 years lost 50% of control over her economy to Germany. The German involvement had meant improvement to her infrastructure, transport and communications. The Germans had also been active in plots and intrigues against the USA in all central American countries. When these plots were discovered, Guatemala broke off relations with Germany and declared herself an associate of the US in this war.

Panama's main reason for existance was the Panama Canal and that was due to the USA. When the US declared war on Germany, Panama expelled all German Consuls from the country and warned that all Germans would be interned, if there were any plots against the Canal.

Nicaragua was really a defacto protectorate of the USA and therefor very much on the US side.

Honduras became the last country to declare war on the Central Powers in July 1917.

When General Pershing arrived in France in 1917, things changed on the Western Front. One month after he arrived, the first 10 000 American soldiers landed on French soil, which grew to about 2 million.

General Pershing became the highest ranking soldier in the US army, just under George Washington.

Alvin C York was one of the most decorated American soldiers in WW1. Although he was a conscious objector at first, he became convinced, that fighting this war was the right thing to do. He received the Medal of Honor for leading an attack on a German machine gun nest; taking 32 machine guns, killing 28 Germans and taking 132 German prisoners.

Billy Mitchell was a US Army General, who is regarded as the father of the US Air Force. He served in France during WW1 and by the conflict’s end, commanded all US air combat units. The “B-25 Mitchell bomber” has been named after him.

Milan Rastislav Stefanik was a famous Slovak. He was born in Hungary, but as a Slovak he had to change High schools several times as Slovak schools were prohibited.

When the war broke out, he realised that the defeat of the Central Powers meant a chance for Czechs and Slovaks to gain their independence. He therefor joined the French army and became an aviator, who flew 30 missions over enemy territory. He played a major role in the creation of the "Republic of Czechoslovakia".

General Ferdinand Foch became a Marshall of France in 1918 and shortly after the German Spring offensive in 1918, Foch became supreme commander of the Allied Forces until 11th of November 1918, when he accepted the German request for an armistice.

He advocated peace terms that would make Germany unable to pose a threat to France ever again. His words after the “Treaty of Versailles” were: “This is not a peace. It is an armistice for twenty years”.(World War 2 started almost twenty years later).

The Italian Front

Although Italy had been a partner of the Central Powers in 1914, she remained neutral because she considered, that Austria had started a war of agression against Serbia. Italy signed the Treaty of London on April 26, 1915, whereby she joined the Allies and on May 23, 1915 she declared war on the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.

Italy opened the war with an offensive aimed at capturing Trieste and Fiume.The offensive failed and when the Austrians counterattacked in Trientino, the war bogged down to trench warfare, like the Western Front in France.

After the Italians lost the battle of Caporetto in October 1917, the Italian army retreated to the river Piave and the Austrians occupied the area of Fruili-Venezia, where they used the Austrian feldpost stamps, overprinted with Italian currency.

When the Italians, supported by the British and the French, won the Battle of Vittorio Veneto, the Italian army occupied South Tirol (Trentino) and overprinted these stamps with Austrian currency.

Later these were replaced by overprinted Italian stamps.

When they also occupied Trieste, Gorizia and the Istrian Peninsula, they used these Austrian stamps to let the world know, that the area had become Italian on the 3rd of November 1918.

Later they were replaced by Italian stamps.

These stamps that are overprinted "centisimi di corona", were used for the occupied areas of Trentino, Venezia Gulia and Dalmatia. (Having been Hungarian territory, the currency used to be "100 filler= 1 Krone")
Here we see four Italian martyrs, who were executed by the Austrian army, because they were Austrians captured in Italian uniforms. Before the war, they had been trying to get their birth place joined to Italy and when the war broke out, they joined the Italian army.

On the 4th of November 1918, the Austrian army was in a chaotic retreat and that was the end of the First World War on the Italian front. But there was still the matter of Fiume!!.


Fiume is a seaport in Dalmatia and belonged to Hungary before 1914. After the surrender of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, the Allies were at a loss what to do with the city, as it was claimed both by Italy and by the newly created Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. Pending determination of the future, the city was occupied by Allied troops and used Hungarian stamps overprinted:"Fiume".
It was President Wilson of the USA, who suggested that Fiume be set up as an "independent state" and a potential home for the new "League of Nations" organisation.

So new stamps were issued in January 1919.

This became a rather confusing situation, which was exploited by the Italian poet Gabrielle d'Annunzio. d'Annunzio was born in 1863 in Dalmatia. As a young man he studied in Tuscany and gained a reputation of brilliant poet and journalist. When Italy entered the war in 1915, d'Annunzio volunteered for active service and joined the newly formed Italian airforce.

After the war, while the Peace conference was on, d'Annunzio together with 2000 volunteers occupied Fiume on Italy's behalf. He acted however completely without authorisation of the Italian Government. One of his first actions was to have the existing stamps overprinted "FRANCO".

These charity stamps, that had been issued in 1919 to support students studying in Italy and also celebrating 200 days of peace, were then overprinted with "Valore globale".
Then on September 12,1920, the currency of Fiume became the Italian Lira and new definitives were issued. They featured the face of d'Annunzio and were inscribed "Hoc Manebimus Optime" (Here we shall proudly take our stand).

On 12 November 1920, Italy and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes signed the Treaty of Rapallo, whereby Fiume became "Freestate of Fiume".

d'Annunzio refused to acknowledge the agreement and was expelled from the city by the regular forces of Italy.
(Bloody Christmas 24-30December 1920.)

The new government immediately overprinted the d'Annunzio issue with "Governo Provvisorio" (Provisional government).

On the 24th of April, 1921 Fiume received a new constitution and the stamps reflected that.
And the new definitives portrayed medieval ships and Roman arches. (Reminding of Fiume's famous past )
On January 1924, the Treaty of Rome was signed by the Kingdom of Italy and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, whereby Italy annexed Fiume and other parts of the disputed territory such as Susak, went to the Kingdom of Serbs,Croats and Slovenes.
Later the overprint of "Regno di Italia" was replaced by "Annessione all 'Italia" and later still the stamps were replaced by regular Italian stamps.

WW1 in Africa

Liberia, on the west coast of Africa (founded by freed negro slaves of the USA) suffered much from the German submarine blockade and the trade with the UK, USA and France was down to zero. So when the United States joined the war, Liberia declared war on Germany and confiscated all German property to compensate her for the loss of revenue, due to the blockade.
Portugal, although neutral, had to defend her colony of Angola against marauding German soldiers from South West Africa. Later in 1916, the British requested that Portugal confiscated 36 ships in Lisbon harbour, after which Germany declared war on Portugal. The Portuguese war effort reached 55.000 infantry men sent to the Western Front and also reinforcements to protect her colonies from German Colonial troops.
Germany’s colony of South West Africa was later occupied by Portuguese and Allied troops.

Jan Christian Smuts (1870-1950) was a South African soldier, who fought against the British in the second South African war, but commanded the British forces in German East Africa and later served in the British War Cabinet (1916-1919).

The German colonies of East Africa were occupied by British and Belgian troops (from the Belgian Congo).
In 1911 France ceded parts of her African territory, known as Moyen Congo (Middle Congo) to German Kamerun, which then became a German protectorate.

During WW l, it was occupied by French troops again, as these stamps show.

Allied operations against the German protectorate of Kamerun, began in September 1914 and was completed on February 18, 1916. The territory was divided between the British and the French. The German stamps were overprinted in July 1915 with C.E.F. (Cameroons Expeditionary Force).

WW1 in Asia Minor

The Ottoman Empire had lost much territory during the Balkan wars of 1912-1913 and when the war broke out in 1914, she joined the Central Powers and declared war on Russia.

On the left we see the Martyr's column of the Balkan Wars.

When the war broke out, Australia was in the middle of an election campaign after the first double dissolution that the country ever had. The choice was between Joseph Cook of the Commonwealth Liberal Party and Andrew Fisher of the Labor Party. Fisher won the election on a platform of: “We are standing beside the Mother Country to help and defend her to the last man and last shilling”.

Fisher resigned a year later and Billy Hughes became the Prime-Minister during the war.

In England, Winston Churchil, the First Lord of the Admiralty had derived a plan to come to Russia's aid.

By attacking the Turks at Gallipoli in order to control the Bosporus, the British Navy would then be able to sail into the Black Sea and assist the Russians.

The New Zealand and the Australian armies formed a special force,"The Anzac" (Australian New Zealand Army Corps) and set sail for Egypt to train together with French and British troops for the landing at Gallipoli.
Lieutenant-General Bernard Cyril Freyberg was a British born New Zealander, who later became the 7th Governor-General of New Zealand. He commanded the New Zealand forces and was the first New Zealand officer on the beach during the Gallipoli campaign.

General John Monash was a civil engineer, who became the Australian Military Commander in the First World War. The valley, behind the line that his Brigade defended during the fighting on Gallipoli, became the “Monash Valley”. He commanded the rearguard in the classic evacuation, which fooled the Turks.

A very famous Anzac story is the story of John Kirkpatrick and his donkey. This Ambulance man was separated from his unit at the landings. He appropriated a donkey, called “Murphy” and proceeded to rescue more than 300 wounded soldiers under enemy fire. He was eventually shot through the back by a machinegun, 24 days later. He was commended for a Victoria Cross, but through bureaucratic bungling, only was awarded a “ Mentioned in Dispatches”, which is the lowest of the four levels of awards for gallantry.

In 2000 Australia Post issued a set of stamps that honoured the last three surviving Anzacs. The first stamp is the 1914-1915 Star, which was awarded to all men that served in those years, including Gallipoli.

In 2005, 90 years after Gallipoli, Australia Post showed how Anzac Day is observed, everywhere in Australia, on April 25, a national public holiday.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was a military officer in the Ottoman Army and born in Salonika in 1881. He became the frontline Commander in Gallipoli, after correctly anticipating where the Allies would attack and held this position until they retreated.

On the right we see the map of Gallipoli on Turkish stamps.

Here we see how the Turks fought off their attackers. Trench fighting on the one and artillerie with howitzers from the hill tops, on the other.
In 1915 many Ottoman stamps were overprinted in aid of charity for widows and orphans of soldiers.
Here we see Mohamed V, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, who came to the throne in 1909, after the forced abdication of his brother Abdul Hamid, by the "Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), aka the "Young Turks Party", whose aim was to modernise the fading Ottoman Empire.

Although he initially opposed his country's participation in the war, he later proclaimed a "Holy War" against the Allies. By the time Mohamed died on July 3, 1918, his army had been at war for almost 4 years and six months after his death, Constantinople was occupied by the Allies and the Ottoman Empire was in shambles.

When the Ottoman Empire declared war on the Allies, it presented a great threat to Britain's interest in Egypt (The Suez Canal was the life line to India).
An Anglo-Indian force was landed near Basra to protect the Persian oil pipeline and in Egypt the Egyptian Expeditionary Force was formed to defend the Canal. When Basra was in British hands, the EEF invaded and occupied Palestine.
In October 1917, the Turks were attacked from both sides and a large mounted force (The Australian Light Brigade) broke through the Gaza-Beersheba line. And on December 11, 1917 General Allenby walked through the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem as the first Christian conqueror, since the Crusades.
The Indian Expeditionary Force in Messopotamia overprinted the Ottoman stamps with "I.E.F.'D'", which was later replaced by "In British Iraq Occupation".
The French, who occupied Cicilia (in the south of modern Turkey) first overprinted Ottoman stamps with "T.E.O. Cicilie" (Territoires Enemie Occupés), that were later replaced by French stamps with the overprint "O.M.F. Cicilie" (Occupation Militaire Francaise)

WW1 in the Pacific.

On the other side of the world, things were happening as well.

Japan had declared war on Germany on August 23, 1914 and had immediately occupied the German concessions in China and China was in no position to resist.

She also had her eyes on the German colonies of Karolines and Marshall Islands in the Pacific and occupied them as well

The Japanese navy performed many escort duties for troop transports in 1916-17 in the Mediterranian.

The New Zealand arm of the British army occupied the German colony of Samoa and the German stamps were overprinted "GRI" (George Rex Imperator).
The Australian army occupied the German part of New Guinea and called the area the "North West Pacific Islands".
On November 4, 1914 the crew of the German light cruiser SMS "Emden", captured the communication centre in the Cocos-Keeling islands. Before capture the station had been able to send out a S.O.S, that was picked up by the Australian cruiser HMAS "Sydney", who went in to investigate. The "Emden" fired shots from a six miles distance and killed 4 sailors on the "Sydney", but then the "Sydney" fired back very effectively, which caused the "Emden" to beach herself on North Keeling island. 134 German personel were killed and the rest of the ship's company taken prisoner and later delivered to the British at Valetta on Malta.
The Chinese had no choice but to observe, how the Japanese occupied the German territories in China. But when the US entered the war, China also broke relations with the Central Powers and declared war on Germany. She sent a large (175 000) labour force to France, to support the war effort, trusting that her territories would be returned after the war.
Siam (Thailand) had remained neutral since 1914, but by joining the Allies, after the USA had entered the war, King Rama l hoped that it would give them much political power. So Siam declared war on Germany on July 27, 1917 and immediately seized 12 ships of the North German Line as war reparations. Siam sent a force of 1284 volunteers to the Western Front and also a medical unit.

In the next chapters, we shall see what happened in Eastern Europe and how the Peace conference in Versailles, planted the seeds for the Second World War.