The 1919 Great War Timeline by Barbara Taylor

January 10-15
Communist Revolt in Berlin.
January 18
Paris Peace Conference begins. Armistice extended monthly until treaty signed.
January 25
Principle of a League of Nations ratified.
February 14
Draft of the League of Nations completed.
MAY 1919
May 6
Under the conditions of the Peace Conference, the German colonies are annexed.
JUNE 1919
June 21
German High Seas Fleet scuttled at Scapa Flow.
June 28
The Treaty of Versailles is signed.
JULY 1919
July 19
The first (wooden) Cenotaph is unveiled on Whitehall.

The 1918 Great War Timeline by Barbara Taylor

January 16
Riots break out in Vienna and Budapest as the Austro-Hungarians express mounting dissatisfaction with the war.
MARCH 1918
March 3
Treaty of Brest-Litovsk signed between Germany and Russia.
March 21
Second Battle of the Somme marked by the German Spring Offensive, the ‘Kaiserschlacht‘ (The Kaiser’s Battle). Germans attack along a 50 mile front south of Arras.
March 22
The German Operation Michael is a complete success. They use new ‘Storm trooper’ assault teams to smash through British positions west of St Quentin, taking 16,000 British prisoners.
March 23
German assaults now reach the Somme Line. The greatest air battle of the war takes place over the battlefield as 70 aircraft are involved in a single combat.
March 28
The German offensive (Operation Mars) along the River Scarpe is halted at great loss. The American Expeditionary Force plays a vital role in the battle.
APRIL 1918
April 5
The German Spring Offensive halts outside Amiens as British and Australian forces hold the line. The second 1917 battle of the Somme ends, as Germany calls off Operation Michael.
April 9
The Battle of the Lys, marked by Operation ‘Georgette’, is the second German Spring Offensive.
April 21
The ‘Red Baron’ is shot down and killed.
April 23
Allies carry out raids against the harbours of Ostend and Zeebrugge. Obsolete vessels are driven ashore and blown up in order to blockade the entrances. Zeebrugge is partially successful; the Ostend raid fails.
April 29
The Battle of the Lys ends. Three British Divisions hold off 13 German divisions, inflicting crippling loss.
MAY 1918
May 10
The British launch a second raid on Ostend. HMS Vindictive is this time successfully scuttled in the harbour entrance. German cruisers are no longer able to use the port.
May 19
The German Air Force launches its largest and last raid on London. Out of the 33 aircraft, 6 are lost, while 49 civilians are killed and 177 wounded.
May 27
Operation Blucher, the third German Spring Offensive assaults the French army along the Aisne River. The French are forced back to the Marne but hold the river after being reinforced by American troops.
JUNE 1918
June 9
The fourth German Offensive on the Western Front, codenamed ‘Gneisenau,’ between Noyan and Montdidier. It fails to break the French line and ends four days later.
June 15
The second Battle of the Piave River, Italy, opens with a massive offensive by the Austro-Hungarian Army. Italian and British troops first hold and then push back the attackers. Despite heavy losses the Allies destroy the Austro-Hungarian Army, precipitating the collapse of the the Empire.
JULY 1918
July 15
The second Battle of the Marne marks the final phase of the German Spring Offensive. Allied counter attacks inflict irreplaceable German casualties. The defeat leads to the cancellation of the planned Invasion of Flanders and puts the Germans on the complete defensive.
July 16
The Russian royal family are murdered.
July 26
Air ace Mick Mannock VC, DSO and two Bars, MC and Bar kia.
August 8
The second Battle of Amiens begins (The ‘Black Day’ of the German army). German resistance is sporadic and thousands surrender. Fighting is now defined by mobility as the lines of trenches are breached.
September 19
The Battle of Samaria marks the British offensive of Palestine.
September 22
Allied victory in the Balkans.
September 27
The Great British Offensive on the Cambrai Front leads to the storming of the Hindenburg Line. The Battle of St Quentin – British and American troops launch devastating offensives, piercing the Hindenburg Line along the Canal Du Nord and St Quentin Canal.
September 30
British and Arab troops take Damascus, capturing 7,000 prisoners.
October 1918
October 4
The German and Austrian peace proposal is sent to the American President, Woodrow Wilson, requesting an armistice.
October 8
The Allies advance along a 20 mile front from St Quentin to Cambrai and drive the Germans back 3 miles, taking Cambrai and le Cateau. Over 10,000 Germans are captured.
October 17
British and American troops launch attacks at the Battle of the Selle. The British liberate Lille and Douai. Belgians retake Ostend and reach Zeebrugge the following day. The whole of the Channel coast in the west of Flanders is liberated.
October 23
The British launch a night attack with all three of their armies, the First, the Second and the Fourth. This time the British advance six miles in two days. The British are now 20 miles behind the rear of the Hindenburg Line.
October 29
German sailors aboard the High Seas Fleet at Jade mutiny and refuse to engage the British Fleet.
October 30
The Turkish army surrenders to the British in Mesopotamia. Turkey signs an armistice with the Allies. Fighting ceases the following day.
November 3
German sailors mutiny at Kiel. Austria-Hungary signs an armistice with the Allies.
November 8
Armistice negotiations between the Allies and Germany begin in Ferdinand Foch’s railway carriage HQ at Compiègne
November 9
Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicates and flees to Holland. Revolution breaks out in Berlin.
November 11 – Armistice Day
The Armistice is signed at 5.00am and comes into effect at 11.00am.
At 10.57am Canadian Private George Lawrence Price is killed while on patrol in Canal du Centre (Conde Canal). He is the last Empire soldier to die in action on the Western front.
November 14
General Von Lettow-Vorbeck surrenders his East African forces on the Chambezi River, Northern Rhodesia.
November 21
The Capitulation of Rosyth – Nine German battleships, five battle-cruisers, seven cruisers and 49 destroyers arrive off Rosyth to surrender. Thirty nine U-Boats surrender off Harwich.
December 12
The British Cavalry cross the Rhine and begin the Occupation of Cologne.
December 13
Americans cross the Rhine and occupy the bridgehead at Coblenz.
Armistice is prolonged for one month until 17th January 1919.

The 1917 Great War Timeline by Barbara Taylor

January 19
British cryptographers decipher a telegram from German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann to the German Minister to Mexico, von Eckhardt; offering United States territory to Mexico in return for joining the German cause. This message helped draw the United States into the war.
January 31
Germany announces the continuation of unrestricted submarine warfare, hoping to starve Britain into submission.
February 3
The United States severs diplomatic relations with Germany as U-Boats threaten US shipping.
February 21
The Great German Withdrawal begins. They will evacuate Serre, Miraumont, Petit Miraumont, Pys and Warlencourt, falling back 25 miles to establish stronger positions along the Hindenburg Line.
February 24
Turkish retreat to Baghdad, abandoning Kut in Mesopotamia.
MARCH 1917
March 8
First Russian Revolution begins with strikes, demonstrations and mutinies in Petrograd.
March 11
Turkish retreat to Baghdad, abandoning Kut in Mesopotamia.
March 15
Tsar Nicholas II abdicates (also for his son) as Moscow falls to Russian Revolutionaries. Demise of the Russian Army frees German troops for the Western Front.
March 26
The First Battle of Gaza, Palestine, as the British attempt to cut off the Turkish forces in Mesopotamia from their homeland. They fail to take the town and are forced to withdraw.
APRIL 1917
April 6
US declares war on Germany. Troops begin to mobilise immediately.
April 9
The Battle of Arras. The British successfully employ new tactics of creeping barrages, the ‘graze fuse’ and counter battery fire. Significant feature of Vimy Ridge captured by the Canadians during this battle.
April 16
The Second Battle of Aisne begins as part of the ‘Nivelle Offensive’. Losses are horrendous, triggering mutinies within the French Army.
April 19
The Second Battle of Gaza begins in Palestine. The plan consists of nothing more than to throw troops against well prepared Turkish positions. It is eventually called off due to mounting casualties.
MAY 1917
May 7
Captain Albert Ball RFC shot down and killed.
Posthumously awarded the VC.
JUNE 1917
June 7
The Battle of Messines Ridge. The British take the ridge with few casualties, as it is preceded by the detonation of 19 mines under the German front lines. The explosions are reportedly heard in southern England.
June 13
Germans launch the first major heavy bomber raid over London. Bombs dropped from 18 Gotha GV aircraft kill 162 people and injure 432.
June 25
First US troops arrive in France.
JULY 1917
July 16
TE Lawrence and the Arabs liberate Aqaba in Jordan after crossing the Nefu desert, which in turn assisted with the capture of Damascus.
July 24
Mata Hari stands trial for espionage.
July 31
The Third Battle of Ypres begins along a 15 mile front in Flanders. Initial attacks are successful as the German forward trenches are lightly manned.
August 15
The Battle of Lens (Hill 70). Canadian troops are in the vanguard of this assault. Hill 70 is only 15 feet higher than the surrounding landscape but it dominates the battlefield. The Canadians take and hold it against five German counter attacks. Allies lose 9,200 men.
August 20
The Third Battle of Verdun begins. French progress is marked by gaining lost territory in the earlier battles.
September 20
The Battle of the Menin Road.
September 26
The Battle of Polygon Wood.
October 1917
October 12
The British launch their latest assaults at Ypres against the Passchendaele Ridge. New Zealand and Australian divisions in the vanguard of the attack take terrible casualties, then are bogged down in the mud and are forced back to their start lines.
October 15
Mata Hari executed
October 19
The last airship raid on Britain is carried out by 11 Zeppelins.
October 24
Joint attack of Austro-Hungarian/German armies launched at Caporetto against Italian army, who are severely overwhelmed. Allies now give significant support with the dispatch of both French and British divisions.
October 25
The Second Battle of Passchendaele begins with 20,000 men of the Third and Fourth Canadian Divisions advancing up the hills of the salient. It cost the Allies 12,000 casualties for a gain of a few hundred yards.
October 30
Reinforced with the addition of two British divisions, a second offensive is launched in torrential rains to capture Passchendaele. The Allies hold the town for the next five days in the face of repeated German shelling and counterattacks.
October 31
Battle of Beersheba, Palestine. British forces take the town capturing 1,800 Turkish troops. This leaves the way open for the advance on Jerusalem.
November 7
The second Russian revolution results in the Bolsheviks under Lenin taking over. Known as the October Revolution as Russia operating the Julian calendar until February 1918. British capture Gaza.
November 10
Battle of Passchendaele ends. After months of fighting, the Allies have advanced only 5 miles, but have taken the high ground that dominates the salient. Half a million men are casualties, of which around 140,000 have been killed.
November 20
The Battle of Cambrai begins, using significant numbers of British tanks for the first time; combined with a predicted artillery bombardment. During the attack, the RFC drop bombs on German anti-tank guns and strongpoints to clear a path for the Allied tanks and ground troops. It is an early example of the ‘Blitzkrieg’ tactics used by the Germans so in the Second World War. Church bells were rung in Britain.
December 11
Britain liberates Jerusalem, ending 673 years of Turkish rule.

The 1916 Great War Timeline by Barbara Taylor

January 4
The Battle of Sheikh Sa’ad is the first attempt to relieve the besieged British in Kut, Mesopotamia. The Turkish finally withdraw but the British casualties number 4,000, a situation exasperated by the poor medical facilities.
January 8
Allied evacuation of Helles marks the end of the Gallipoli campaign.
January 24
Introducing conscription, the British Government passes the Military Service Act, due to become law on May 25.
February 21
The Battle of Verdun starts with a German offensive against the Mort-Homme Ridge. The German plan is to bleed the French dry of men and resources. The battle lasts 10 months and over a million men become casualties.
MARCH 1916
March 9
Germany declares war on Portugal. Six days later, Austria follows suit.
APRIL 1916
April 5
The Battle of Kut. The third and final Allied attempt to relieve Kut flounders in the mud along the Tigris, with 23,000 Allied casualties.
April 21
Easter Rising in Dublin.
April 29
Besieged garrison at Kut in Mesopotamia surrenders after 143 days and 3,000 British and 6,000 Indian troops go into captivity. The majority of these die of disease and starvation in prison camps.
MAY 1916
May 13
Arabs capture Mecca from the Turks.
May 31-June 1
The Battle of Jutland. The German High Seas Fleet is forced to retire despite inflicting heavier losses on the Royal Navy (14 ships and 6,100 men), but the German fleet remains in port for the rest of the war.
JUNE 1916
June 4
The Russian Brusilov Offensive begins on the Eastern Front. It nearly cripples Austria-Hungary out of the war.
June 5
TE Lawrence aids Hussein, Grand Sharif of Mecca, in the Arab revolt against the Turks in Hejaz.
Lord Kitchener sails for Russia on board HMS Hampshire. The ship is mined off Orkney and Kitchener is lost along with 643 other crewmen and general staff.
June 8
Voluntary Enlistment in Britain is replaced by Conscription.
JULY 1916
July 1
The opening day of the Battle of the Somme. 750,000 Allied soldiers are unleashed along a 25 mile front. By the end of the day the British sustained 57,470 casualties, of which 19,240 died. It remains the worst single day’s fighting in British military history.
July 14
The Battle of Bazentin Ridge marks the end of the first Somme Offensive. The British break the German line but fail to deploy the cavalry fast enough to take full advantage. Some 9,000 men are lost.
July 23
The Battle of Pozières Ridge marks the second Somme Offensive. Close to the highest point of the Somme battlefield, Pozières dominates the surrounding countryside. The action to take the village costs 17,000 Allied casualties, the majority of whom are Australian.
August 26
Under General Smuts, Britain enters the Morogoro Campaign in East Africa. The Germans lead a deadly guerrilla campaign, but disease kills 30 men for every one that dies in combat.
August 28
Italy declares war on Germany.
September 2
The first Zeppelin is shot down over Britain by Lt Leefe Robinson. The Royal Flying Corps uses a new combination of explosive and incendiary bullets to great effect. Robinson awarded the Victoria Cross.
September 9
The Battle of Ginchy. The British capture Ginchy – a post of vital strategic importance, as it commands a view of the whole Somme battlefield.
September 15
The Battle of Flers-Courcelette signifies the start of the third stage of the Somme Offensive. Tanks are used for the first time. Despite initial gains the Allies fail to break through German lines.
September 27
The Battle of Thiepval. Tanks play a crucial role in the capture of this strategic village.
November 13
The Battle of Ancre. The fourth phase of the Somme Offensive is marked by the British capturing Beaumont Hamel and St Pierre Divion, taking nearly 4,000 prisoners.
December 7
David Lloyd George appointed British Prime Minister.
December 12
Germany delivers Peace Note to Allies suggesting compromise.
December 18
The Battle of Verdun ends. It is the longest and costliest battle on the Western Front.

The 1915 Great War Timeline by Barbara Taylor

January 19
In the first airborne attack on British soil, Zeppelins bomb Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn, killing five civilians.
January 24
Battle of the Dogger Bank
February 7-22
Second Battle of the Masurian Lakes result in huge Russian losses but halt German advance
February 18
Blockade of Britain by German U-boats begins. All vessels are considered viable targets, including those from neutral countries.
February 19
Allied naval bombardment of the Dardanelles and Gallipoli begins.
MARCH 1915
March 10
The British Offensive at Neuve Chapelle begins. Allied losses amount to 12,800 in two days. Some of the blame falls on the poor quality and lack of British shells, initiating the ‘Shell Crisis’.
Combined French and British naval attack on the Dardanelles. When this fails the army assumes responsibility.
APRIL 1915
April 22
Second Battle of Ypres begins. First use of poison gas by Germany.
April 25
Allied landing at Gallipoli – 70,000 British, Commonwealth and French troops are under heavy fire. On ‘Y’ Beach, 1,200 out of a force of 1,500 men are casualties.
MAY 1915
May 2
Austro-German offensive on Galicia begins.
May 7
German U-boat torpedoes British liner Lusitania with the loss of American lives, creating a US-German diplomatic crisis.
May 9
Battle of Aubers Ridge
May 23
Italy declares war on Austria-Hungary.
May 25
The ‘Shell Crisis’ exposes the failings of the British Government in supporting front line troops. Discontent over rising casualty figures grows and a coalition government is formed as Prime Minister Asquith struggles to maintain control of the House of Commons.
May 26
Churchill forced to resign as First Lord of the Admiralty after the Gallipoli landings debacle, but continues as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
May 31
The first Zeppelin raid on London kills seven and injures 35. British morale is shaken as Germany demonstrates it can attack the capital at will.
JUNE 1915
June 4
The Third and final Battle of Krithia begins at Gallipoli as Allies attempt to push inland from their beach-heads. British losses amount to 6,000 men.
June 21
British troops reach the Euphrates in Mesopotamia, and re-occupy Aden.
JULY 1915
July 30
German troops use flame throwers for the first time against the British lines at Hooge, near Ypres.
August 4
Germans annex Warsaw.
August 6
Allies land two divisions at Suvla Bay, Gallipoli. They opt not to take the strategic heights overlooking the beaches and are eventually pinned to the coast by Turkish troops.
August 16
A U-boat bombards Whitehaven, proving that Britain’s maritime defences can be breached by German submarines.
August 21
The Battle of Scimitar Hill, Gallipoli, is the final British offensive in the Dardanelles. They are repelled and lose 5,000 men.
September 25
The Great Allied Offensive focuses on Loos and Champagne. At the Battle of Loos the British use gas for the first time but the wind blows this over their own troops resulting in 2632 casualties – seven are killed.
September 27
British and Canadian regiments take Hill 70 at Loos and break the German line, but lack of reserves to exploit the breach results in limited success. The Canadians alone receive over 9,000 casualties.
October 5
Under German pressure to open up military rail links to Constantinople and the Middle East, the Austro-Hungarians step up their campaign against the Serbians. Anglo-French forces land at Salonika to counter allied German expansion in the Balkans.
October 12
British nurse Edith Cavell is executed by German firing squad for helping POWs escape from Belgium to Holland. She becomes a popular martyr and British heroine.
October 31
Steel helmets introduced on the British Front.
November 22
Battle of Ctesiphon, 25 miles south of Baghdad. Allies inflict heavy casualties on the Turks, but are forced to retire to Kut due to lack of supplies. The Turkish soldiers give chase and besiege the town.
December 15
Sir Douglas Haig replaces Sir John French as Commander in Chief of the British Expeditionary Force.
December 20
Allies complete the evacuation of 83,000 troops from Suvla Bay and ANZAC Cove in Gallipoli. Not one soldier or sailor is killed in the withdrawal and the Turkish are unaware of the evacuation

The 1914 Great War Timeline by Barbara Taylor

JUNE 1914
June 28
Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg are assassinated in Sarajevo.
June 29
Secretary of the Austro-Hungarian Legation at Belgrade sends despatch to Vienna accusing Serbian complicity in the assassination.
JULY 1914
July 20
Austria-Hungary sends troops to the Serbian frontier.
July 25
Serbia orders mobilisation of troops. Russia arranges for troops to be stationed on Russo-Austrian frontier.
July 28
Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia.
July 29
Great Britain warns Germany that it cannot remain neutral. Austrians bombard Serbian capital Belgrade. German patrols cross the French border. Czar Nicholas II orders partial mobilisation.
August 1
French military mobilisation ordered. Germany declares war on Russia. Italy and Belgium announce neutrality.
August 2
Germany gives Belgium an ultimatum to allow passage of German troops.
August 3
Germany declares war on France. Belgium rejects ultimatum. Great Britain gives order for troops to mobilise.
August 4
Germany declares war on Belgium. United States declares neutrality. Great Britain gives Germany ultimatum to stand down from hostilities. Germany doesn’t comply; a state of war is declared at 11.00pm
August 5
Austria-Hungary declares war on Russia.
August 6
Royal Navy cruiser HMS Amphion is sunk by German mines in the North Sea, causing the death of 150 men and the first British casualties of war. Serbia declares war on Germany.
August 7
First members of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) land in France.
August 11
‘Your King and Country Need You’ slogan is published, calling for the first 100,000 men to enlist for Kitchener’s New Army. The call is answered within two weeks.
August 12
Great Britain declares war on Austria-Hungary
August 13
The first squadrons of the Royal Flying Corps arrive in France.
August 20
Brussels is evacuated as Germans occupy the city.
August 23
First engagement of the BEF at the Battle of Mons, after which the allies are forced into a tactical retreat. Japan declares war on Germany.
August 25
The Royal Flying Corps claim their first ‘kill’ as three aircraft from 2nd Squadron force down a German reconnaissance plane.
August 26
The Battle of Le Cateau. BEF suffers 7,812 casualties. The retreat continues.
The Battle of Tannenberg on the Eastern Front (Aug 26th-30th). German victory.
August 28
Batttle of Heligoland Bight.
September 5-12
The First Battle of Marne checks German advance at the cost of 13,000 British, 250,000 French and 250,000 German casualties.
First Battle of the Masurian Lakes on the Eastern Front (Sept 9th-14th). Russian victory.
September 12-15
The First Battle of the Aisne pushed the German army north of the river and then began ‘The Race to the sea’ to deny the enemy access to the Channel ports.
October 16
The British Indian Expeditionary Force sails from Bombay to the Persian Gulf in preparation for the defence of Mesopotamia.
October 19-November 22
The First Battle of Ypres. Trenches established from the North Sea to the Swiss border.
October 28
River Yser flooded to halt German advance to the Channel ports.
October 29
Turkey enters the war on the side of the Central Powers.
During October, the East African war starts with the SMS Köningsberg being trapped in the Rufiji River, German East Africa.
November 1
Battle of Coronel off the coast of Chile.
November 23
The British enter Basra, securing oil supplies in the Middle East needed to supply most of the Royal Navy.
December 8
The Battle of the Falkland Islands. A Royal navy task force sinks three German cruisers that were victorious at the Battle of Coronel in November. Only the SMS Dresden escapes.
December 16
The German First High Sea fleet bombards Hartlepool, Whitby and Scarborough, killing 137 civilians and proving that the British mainland is susceptible to attack.
Partial truce observed. Football match(es) played in No Man’s Land.

(c) B. Taylor (09/02/2015).
This and the other 5 timelines were prepared for the British Commission for Military History Great War Commemorations by Barbara Taylor, member of the Western Front Association, and grateful thanks are given to her.

The Great War’s impact on English music

Guest article D1


Author: Julia E.T. Bailey, then BA in Music, Bristol University, now Dr. Julia at the V&A.

Edited by Dr George Bailey

The arrival of the twentieth century brought with it a new spirit of hope throughout the world, most notably in Europe. There was an overwhelming sentiment of arrogance in humankind – with the climax of the Industrial Revolution it seemed that man was omnipotent, a feeling heightened by such events as discovering his ability to fly, when Orville Wright first flew his airplane above the ground on the 17th December 1903 in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The new era seemed to be creating a fresh sense of equality, with the suffragette movement making a considerable impact on the Western world from 1906 onwards. Europe appeared for a time to be as one, with travel between different countries frequent and simple, and Great Britain was reveling in excess following the restrictive Victorian years. However, all too soon this carefree lifestyle was brought to a startling halt, for beneath this jovial exterior bubbled social unrest and international tension. On the 28th of June 1914, Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary was assassinated by a Serbian terrorist in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, at that time still a province of Austria. Austria-Hungary took this insult as a perfect reason to begin a long-awaited conflict with Serbia, declaring war on the 28th of July. Within a week the whole of Europe was at war. At first civilians did not consider these events as exceptionally disturbing. The English had concluded the Boer War (1899 – 1902) in South Africa a decade earlier and there was a general consensus that this new European war would be completed by Christmas. More than four years later the war was finally over, but eight million people lay dead and twenty-one million wounded as the result of a war caused by the hubris that had been so prevalent at the start of the century.

“The Great War, like all wars in all ages, presented the country with challenges from within, as well as dangers from without.” (Stradling and Hughes, 1993)

Great Britain also had to contend with the disintegration of its own nation, as the southern states of Ireland made a bid to break away from the United Kingdom resulting in the Easter Rebellion of 1916. Their ultimate independence was a strong blow to England, which had for so long been the principal state in the British Isles, especially as Scotland and Wales were beginning to rediscover their national identities. ‘Britishness’ as it had be defined for so long was at an end, and the English was keen to show their individuality not only from the rest of Europe but also from the remaining territories of Great Britain.

“In the period immediately following the First World War, a new spirit seized the imagination of the Western mind. A profound cultural paradigm shift, one that had been gathering momentum for many decades, finally achieved critical mass. This spirit of modernism made itself felt – for better and for worse – in all areas of society.” (Gilliam, 1994)

As has always been the case, social and music history were very strongly linked during this period. The feelings of restlessness and anxiety so evident within civilian life were mirrored in the concert hall, as composers challenged the principles of the Romantic period. Following extensive interaction between neighbouring countries, each nation adopted a much more introverted nature, neglecting foreign influences. England and Germany had social links reaching back centuries, but such was their mutual contempt following the declaration of war on 4th August 1914 that they dissolved all ties.

“…the defining moment in the new perception of things German came when, in July 1917, the Royal House itself – that of ‘Saxe-Coburg-Gotha’ – changed its name to the ‘House of Windsor’ … Voices warned against similarly symbolic change in the nation’s musical culture.” (Stradling and Hughes, 1993)

However, such warnings were ignored, and the musical establishments of England and Germany began to follow individual courses, although, as George Bernard Shaw remarked in a letter to a friend living in Vienna, for the general public such breaks in tradition were easier in theory than in practice.

“In London during August 1914 the usual cheap evening orchestral concerts, so-called Promenade Concerts, were announced in a patriotic manner, with the comment that no German musician would be represented on the program. Everybody applauded this announcement, but nobody attended the concert. A week later a program of Beethoven, Wagner and Richard Strauss was announced. Everybody was indignant and everybody went to hear it. It was a complete and decisive German victory without a single man being killed.” (Slonimsky, 1994)

For English music, the principle result of World War One was a retreat into the past. English composers were keen to distance themselves from musical styles adopted from their Teutonic cousins and instead returned to the only genre that they knew for sure to be solely English – folk music. Composers in this type became known as the ‘Pastoral School’. In many ways they were indebted to the war and also the Irish revolution, for without them there would not have been such a withdrawal into bygone English music and in all probability the country would never have reclaimed a separate identity from Germany. But inspired by intense patriotism and a desire to escape from the present political climate, English music underwent something of a Renaissance, in which “folk-song was to be the salvation”.(Stradling and Hughes, 1993) Also revived was the music of sixteenth-century English composers, such as Thomas Tallis, William Byrd and Thomas Weelkes. The twentieth-century composers did not directly duplicate their work, but rather combined music theory learnt since then and a particularly strong influence of modern music with the Renaissance style.

The most eminent of all composers belonging to the ‘Pastoral School’ was surely Ralph Vaughan Williams.

“Vaughan William’s music drew inspiration from national sources – English literature and traditional song, hymnody, and earlier English composers such as Purcell and Tallis – as well as the European traditions of Bach and Handel, Debussy and Ravel.” (Grout and Palisca, 1996)

Although almost forty-two years old and therefore over the military age, from 1914 onwards Vaughan Williams chose to participate in the war, working during the ensuing four years in France and Greece as a wagon orderly in the Royal Army Medical Corps and an artillery officer. Following the armistice he worked as director of music for the British Expeditionary Force, in charge of organizing music events for and by the troops. Four years of being surrounded by often appalling conditions and frequently staring death in the face obviously affected Vaughan Williams for the rest of his life, and subsequently influenced all the music he was to compose from then on.

“The impact of the war on his imagination was deep and lasting but did not express itself in an obvious protest or change of style; rather is it felt in a more intense inwardness.” (The New Grove, 1986)

Particularly in the decade following the war Vaughan Williams produced a collection of music evidently heavily influenced by the war. In the 1920s Vaughan Williams was generally considered the ‘national’ composer of England. His works was continuously successful, greeted by critical and public acclaim alike. Audiences were seeking outlets for feelings of patriotism, and, unfortunately, on many occasions jingoism, and Vaughan Williams provided them with the music they so coveted. Examples of such music are the Songs of Praise collection, published in 1925, which made use of much material written by English poets and musicians of earlier centuries. That the general public received his music so well is perhaps considerably due to the fact that Vaughan Williams rejected atonality, describing it as ‘ugly’, and he believed this style posed too many limitations in the development of English music.

The most notable war-influenced piece by Vaughan Williams must surely be his Pastoral Symphony, first performed in 1922 to an appreciative audience. This project, his third symphony, was initiated as early as 1916 whilst the composer was still posted in France as a member of the Royal Army Medical Corps, and is therefore one of the few pieces actually written by a soldier in the Great War whilst he was serving in the war. Many consider this to be the most beautiful of all Vaughan William’s symphonies, and it is certainly the most ‘English’, containing heavy folk-music influences and culminating in a wordless soprano finale. However, one must realize that “the composer intended it not as a celebration of his green and pleasant land but as a requiem for a rural society racked by war and unstoppable progress.”(Lebrecht, 1992)

In a period of such disillusionment and emotional turmoil many people turned to religion in an attempt to make sense of the appalling tragedy of the Great War. Vaughan Williams did not follow this trend consciously, but certainly after the war he began to write an increased amount of religious works, such as Sancta Civitas, an oratorio based on the Revelations chapter of the Bible and first performed in 1926. This piece was preceded by a quotation from Plato regarding the immortality of the soul. This is probably the most intimate and heartfelt of all Vaughan Williams’ compositions, as it “suggests a deep concern with reaching out towards a religious, though not necessarily Christian, view of reality” (The New Grove, 1986), yet it never achieved the degree of success of his other works. Following a revival of the music of Byrd and the English polyphonic school at Westminster Cathedral, Vaughan Williams was inspired in 1920 to compose his Mass in G minor for unaccompanied double choir. This piece was one of the pioneers in the rebirth of the a cappella music tradition.

A long friend of Vaughan Williams and another great English composer of the interwar period was Gustav Holst, who also shared his comrade’s passion for folk music. Also like Vaughan Williams, Holst was keen to participate in the war, but was deemed unsuitable for war service due to persisting ill health with neuritis and weak sight. However, he was able to become involved as a music organizer of the army education scheme of the YMCA and was posted to the Middle East during the autumn of 1918. Though not as heavily influenced by the Great War as Vaughan Williams, Holst certainly reacted in his music, writing two pieces of particular note, though neither referring directly to battle: Hymn of Jesus in 1917 and Ode to Death two years later. The first was a immense choral work using dissonance and bitonality in a completely novel way for this type of opus. The latter was a setting for chorus and orchestra of a Walt Whitman poem, the poet himself heavily influenced by the American Civil War.

The two other principle English pastoralists were Hubert Parry and Charles Stanford. Though both were close to the end of their lives by the time of the war, they were both heavily influenced by the Renaissance period brought about by the Great War. Also, they had lived through the period of strong links with Germany musical establishments and the betrayal they felt from that country was a recognizable theme within their compositions following the outbreak of war. Parry wrote several short works which clearly demonstrate wartime influences, such as A Hymn for Aviators in 1915 and Jerusalem in 1916, a setting of William Blake’s poem Milton, which became a national hymn. Parry’s most considerable work influenced by the war was From Death to Life, a symphonic poem written in 1914. As Parry died in 1918, right up until his death he was feeling the tragedy of the War and it affected his last music, Songs of Farewell, written from 1916 to 1918. The collection was made up of six unaccompanied secular motets, excellent examples of the a cappella genre, with text taken from the Bible and works of various English poets. Within these songs Parry “expressed a yearning to escape from a world which was destroying itself through nationalistic obsession” (Stradling and Hughes, 1993). Stanford had dual nationality – English and Irish – and was therefore greatly troubled by events in Ireland, climaxing in 1916 with the Easter Rebellion. Stanford was influenced by the ‘Pastoral School’ to explore Irish folk music, making many arrangements. He was such an notable musician in history not so much for any individual pieces but for his influence, through teaching, on so many important composers, his pupils including Vaughan Williams and Holst. He also wrote several books, expressing his ideas on national music, his most significant being A History of Music, co-written in 1916 with the performer and musicologist Cecil Forsyth.

“There are two classes of men…the nationalists and the denationalists. And the artistic health and productivity of any community increases exactly with its proportion of nationalists… It is a quarrel of the creative mind with the receptive…of the man who loves his country and the man who loves someone else’s.” (Stradling and Hughes, 1993)

However, not all composers of this period were to adhere to Stanford’s rules, one such man being Frank Bridge. He had strong pacifist beliefs and thus the First World War had a grave impact on his state of mind and therefore his subsequent compositions, encapsulated in this Piano Sonata of 1921 to 1924, which used a new, radical harmonic style, containing much more dissonance than before.

The war caused the deaths of many composers who, had they lived, had the potential to be great. George Butterworth had won renown for the music he composed for the song cycle ‘A Shropshire Lad’ for which A.E. Houseman wrote the lyrics. Lieutenant Butterworth joined the Durham Light Infantry and was awarded the Military Cross for bravery but was killed in 1916 during the Battle of the Somme. Having no known grave he is commemorated on the Anglo-French Memorial at Thiepval. George Butterworth was a friend of Vaughan Williams, sharing a mutual passion for national folk music. His short life meant that he left behind only a small number of compositions, but the evidence from his composition ‘A Shropshire Lad’ suggests that he may have achieved greatness, a belief supported by the fact that Vaughan Williams was to dedicate A London Symphony to his memory. Ernest Farrar was another composer who was killed in action, falling during the Battle of Epehy Ronssoy , the Somme Valley, on the 18th of September 1918 during the Advance to Victory. Again, many considered that he could have been a significant composer, and Bridge’s famous Piano Sonata was dedicated to his memory. Others were Frederick Kelly and Denis Browne, killed in 1915 in Achi Baba, during the Gallipoli campaign, Turkey. The war also left many casualties, including notable musicians. Stanford considered Ivor Gurney to be his most talented pupil, and he also had a great interest in music of the ‘Pastoral School’, writing many songs in this style and becoming a friend of Vaughan Williams. However, in 1917, he was gassed at Passchendaele and was never to recover, ending his days in an asylum. Another Stanford pupil, Ernest Moeran, sustained a serious head injury, but was fortunately still capable of having much involvement in the collection of folk-song and the expansion of pastoralism after the war.

Yet, there is still one composer not mentioned who is the most famous of all English composers during this period – Edward Elgar. As with his contemporaries, Parry and Stanford, the Great War was only an influence on his later works, especially since from the death of his wife in 1920 until his own demise in 1934 he wrote few new works. Elgar’s music was noticeably affected by the War, but he did not follow the theories of the ‘Pastoral School’ and there was a certain amount of tension amongst this group of folk-influenced composers and the most famous English composer of the day, especially by the more fundamental composers, such as Stanford.

“For members of the ‘Pastoral School’, Elgar’s “brand of ‘English progressivism’ was neither English nor progressive: rather, it was seen as sub-Teutonic and reactionary. The emphasis was not upon national music.” (Stradling and Hughes, 1993)

Elgar was much too old at the outbreak of the War to take part in active service, but he was determined to help the war effort by enlisting in the Hampstead Special Constabulary. Ever a favourite with the concert-going public, during the war years Elgar devoted most of his time to composing patriotic pieces of music. Many had considered Elgar to have effectively finished his composition years by the start of the new century, but the War gave him the inspiration to continue his composing. In 1914, he composed his tribute to Belgium and their brave resistance in the face of German invasion, a piece for reciting voice and orchestra called Carillon. The libretto was taken from the patriotic words by the Belgian poet, Emile Leon Cammaerts, and the work was premiered at the Promenade Concerts in London on 7th December. The words express the early belief in a short and uneventful war:

“Sing Belgians, sing!
Although our wounds may bleed,
Although our voices break,
Louder than the storm, louder than the guns…” Stradling and Hughes, 1993)

In the second year of the war Elgar wrote a piece dedicated to another brave country being destroyed by the German forces, Polonia, a symphonic prelude in aid of the Polish Relief Fund, which had its first performance in London on the 6th of July 1915. It was commissioned by the Conservative government minister, Charles Stuart-Wortley, an important figure in the fund, and was dedicated to Ignacy Jan Paderewski, the Polish pianist and composer who worked unceasingly for the Polish cause and was eventually elected Prime Minister in the first government of the new independent nation.

However, Elgar’s most acclaimed and enduring War-influenced work must surely be the The Spirit of War, a “choral triptych” (Slonimsky, 1994) set to three patriotic war poems by Laurence Binyon. The three movements were The Fourth of August, To Women and For the Fallen, and the full work was premiered, again in London, on the 24th November 1917, dedicated “to the memory of our glorious men, with a special thought to the Worcesters” (Stradling and Hughes, 1993). It was the culmination of all Elgar’s patriotic war works, but contained much deeper emotions than any of his earlier Romantic-style patriotic pieces. The work was critically acclaimed, with Binyon himself very eager for Elgar to set his poems to music, “perceiving the chance of a work of national importance” (Stradling and Hughes, 1993).

The last two movements (To Women and For the Fallen) had been entirely composed and achieved their first performance by May 1916, but such historical events as the great Battle of the Somme in 1916, the continuous devastation being caused by extensive submarine warfare, and the Russian Revolution in 1917 had all left Elgar with little inspiration or desire to compose, so perturbed was he by such events. Therefore it is unsurprising that the first movement, The Fourth of August, contained a new level of cynicism and unrepressed hatred towards the German empire with which he had once felt such a close connection.

The Great War of 1914 – 1918 affected the music history of all countries involved, and England certainly never recovered from this tragedy – after a few hedonistic years at the start of the century the War had a deep effect on the national character. In some ways it inspired a great sense of patriotism and national pride that had been missing as the divides between the countries of Europe had slowly disappeared, but there were few families left unscathed by the War and the mourning continued long after the War had ended, destroying the tranquility of the Romantic period and ensuring that composers could never return to that insouciant style. The ‘Pastoral School’, with its desire to revive long-forgotten musical heritage eventually relented to its polarization, the new fashion for Expressionism with the objective of destroying music tradition. Nowadays it is impossible to name a distinct contemporary English musical style, as such high levels of communication available cause the music of one European country to be very much the same as any other. It can be argued that pastoralism was the first and last English music, and once the cycle was fully completed there was nowhere left to turn except away from a national music altogether.


Gilliam, Bryan (1994) Music And Performance During The Weimar Republic, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)
Grout, Donald Jay and Palisca, Claude V. (1996) A History Of Western Music, (London: W. W. Norton & Company)
Lebrecht, Norman (1992) The Companion To Twentieth Century Music, (London: Simon & Schuster Limited)
Slonimsky, Nicolas (1994) Music Since 1900 (Fifth Edition), (New York: Schirmer Books)
Stradling, Robert and Hughes, Merion (1993) The English Musical Renaissance 1860-1940: Construction And Deconstruction, (London: Routledge)
The New Grove (1986) Twentieth-Century English Masters, (London: Macmillan Publishers Ltd)


Levi, Erik (1994) Music In The Third Reich, (London: The Macmillan Press Limited)
Morgan, Robert P. (1993) Man And Music – Modern Times: From World War I To The Present, (London: The Macmillan Press Limited)
Morris, Mark (1996) A Guide To 20th Century Composers, (London: Methuen London)
Rickards, Guy (1995) Hindemith, Hartmann And Henze, (London: Phaidon Press Ltd)
Salzman, Eric (1988) Twentieth-Century Music: An Introduction (Third Edition), (New Jersey: Prentice Hall)
The New Grove (1983) Second Viennese School, (London: Macmillan London Ltd)

 JET Bailey (22/12/00)
This essay was first written for the Department of Music, the University of Bristol, in the Autumn term of 2000.