When looking through thousands of images of World War I, some of the more striking photos are not of technological wonders or battle-scarred landscapes, but of the human beings caught up in the chaos. The soldiers were men, young and old, and the opportunity to look into their faces and see the emotion, their humanity, instead of a uniform or nationality, is a gift – a real window into the world a century ago. While soldiers bore the brunt of the war, civilians were involved on a massive scale as well. From the millions of refugees forced from their homes, to the volunteer ambulance drivers, cooks, and nurses, to the civilian support groups used by all major armies, ordinary people found themselves at war. Today’s entry is a glimpse into the lives of these people, in battle, at play, at rest, and at work, during World War I. On this 100-year anniversary, I’ve gathered photographs of the Great War from dozens of collections, some digitized for the first time, to try to tell the story of the conflict, those caught up in it, and how much it affected the world.
Highlanders on the Western Front, killed and later stripped of their socks and boots, ca. 1916.
French soldiers, some wounded, some dead, after the taking of Courcelles, in the department of Oise, France, in June of 1918.
French soldier whose face was mutilated in World War I, being fitted with a mask made at the American Red Cross studio of Anna Coleman Ladd.
Western Front. A Captured British soldier salvages the valuables of fellow Englishmen killed in battle, in April of 1918.
British soldiers play football while wearing gas masks, France, 1916.
Thiepval, September 1916. Bodies of German soldiers strewn across the bottom of a trench.
A fallen Russian soldier being buried where he fell by civilians being overseen by the Germans. Russia lost some two million men in combat during World War I.
German machine-gun nest and dead gunner at Villers Devy Dun Sassey, France, on November 4, 1918 — one week before the end of the war.
A German soldier holds a camera, standing in front of a destroyed British Mark IV (female) tank and the burned remains of its crew in 1917.
On the Western Front, a dead German artilleryman and several draft horses, ca. 1918. Exact figures are hard to come by, but an estimated 8 million horses died during the four years of war.
A British Mark V tank passes by a dead horse in the road in Peronne, France in 1918.
An Austrian soldier, dead on a battleground, in 1915.
Three dead German soldiers outside their pill box near Zonnebeke, Belgium.
Dead horses are buried in a trench after the Battle of Haelen which was fought by the German and Belgian armies on August 12, 1914 near Haelen, Belgium. Horses were everywhere in World War I, used by armies, and caught up in farm fields turned into battlefields, millions of them were killed.
A German machine gunner lies dead at his post in a trench near Hargicourt, in France
A German pilot lies dead in his crashed airplane in France.