Britain cannot comprehend French suffering in WW1

When travelling around France it is hard not to be struck by the quality of its memorials to the dead of the Great War.

A hundred years on – and we mark the centenary of the Armistice on 11 November – these often elaborate sculptures still make an eloquent statement of the sheer grief a nation felt at its suffering in those four years.

France lost nearly 1.4million men in the conflict. Of the total deaths among the entente powers, the British Empire accounted for 16%, France for 25%. Almost 4.3% of the entire French population was killed in the war; Britain lost 2.2%.

Britain had a volunteer army until 1916, when the scale of destruction on the Western Front forced the introduction of conscription.

In France, every man was called up from the moment the Germans attacked. It is easy to understand why: the motherland itself was under assault. For the British it was a case of going abroad to join an ally in the defence of Belgium; for the French, it was about securing the continuation of their nation.

Not only was every man required to serve: women were enlisted for work in munitions factories and on the land, long before anything on ...

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