The First World War: trauma and memory
The First World War: trauma and memory

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The First World War: trauma and memory

1.1.3 Search for yourself

Described image
Figure 3 The Tyne Cot memorial to the missing and the cemetery of the dead of the First World War, Passchendaele, Flanders, Belgium.

As you’ve just seen, finding accurate casualty figures is no easy task. Estimates are that around ten million soldiers and up to six million civilians died as a result of the war. You have seen that it is impossible to get exact figures for the casualties of the First World War – many soldiers may have died in captivity or after being discharged from the army, and would not have been included in official estimates. We therefore need to be cautious when approaching statistics of this kind.

Now that you’ve seen historians carry out this research, you could try to do your own historical research, and learn how to find and interrogate historical data. You could do your own internet search for casualty rates of the First World War, using a search engine, just like Vincent did in the video. Most likely, your query will bring up Wikipedia as one of the first hits. As you have just seen, that’s fine as a starting point, so make a note of the casualty rates for a number of other countries, including Germany, Russia, France and Serbia. Choose additional ones if you like. Which countries suffered the highest losses among civilians? Who lost the most soldiers in the war?

Now compare these numbers with some different sources, like the History Learning site [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]  or those featured in the previous section. An excellent resource is 1914–1918 Online, an authorative online encyclopedia of the First World War. It includes a thoughtful article on war losses.

In Table 1 are the figures found for Germany, Russia, France and Serbia.

Table 1 Casualty rates for the First World War

Country Military Deaths Percentage of Men Mobilised Civilian Deaths
France 1,327,000 16% 40,000–600,00
German Empire 2,037,000 15% 426,000–700,000
Russia 1,997,500 11% 1,500,000–2,000,000
Serbia 278,000 33% 300,000–650,000

The military casualty figures are the most recent estimates taken from Jay Winter, The Cambridge History of the First World War, volume 3.

The civilian casualty figures have been taken from 1914–1918 Online. The estimates vary depending on whether you include victims of the Spanish flu or civilians dying of starvation after the war.

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