David Crane

They Thought It Was All Over

Crucible: The Long End of the Great War and the Birth of a New World, 1917–1924

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If you asked ten people in Britain when the First World War ended, the odds are that nine out of the ten would plump for 11 November 1918. It is true that the Cenotaph stretches the end date to 1919, but fixated as we are in Britain on the Western Front, and brought up on the commemorative rituals of the Armistice Day anniversary, it is all too easy to forget that for much of Europe the miseries of the Great War had begun well before 1914 and would end long after the politicians had gone home from Versailles.

There was nothing neat about the start of the Great War – the First World War was in origin the Third Balkan War writ large – and there was similarly nothing tidy about its long drawn-out endgame. Following Armistice Day the British soon found themselves engaged in vicious conflicts in Ireland and Mesopotamia. From the Baltic to Corfu, from the outskirts of Warsaw to Siberia, on the streets of Berlin and Munich and across the vast expanses of the old crumbling empires, Germans, French, Poles, Greeks, Turks, Italians, Irish, Russians, Armenians, Jews, Arabs and Indians would perish in the wars, massacres, ethnic cleansings, famines, executions and assassinations that drew a bloody line under the hopes and illusions of the peacemakers.

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