Earlier this year, I wrote about 18 things I planned to do in 2018. I’m not sure how successful I’ve been (I’m a bit scared to look!) but with the centenary of the First World War’s Armistice Day fast approaching, I’ve turned instead to the events, people, books and films of 1918.
While the list is far from exhaustive, here are 18 events (16 in chronological order and 2 undated) that piqued my interest, and not all are war related:
8 January 1918
Billy Hughes resigns as Prime Minister of Australia, following the defeat of the 1917 plebiscite regarding conscriptions. He’s reinstated the following day as there are no alternative candidates.
27 January 1918
Tarzan of the Apes premieres for the first time as a silent film. Many people will be familiar with the storyline, which is based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ 1912 novel by the same name. As a baby, Tarzan and his parents are en route to Africa when they are marooned by mutineers. After the death of his parents, Tarzan is raised by apes. The Romance of Tarzan, based on the second half of Burrough’s novel, is released later the same year.
6 February 1918
Great Britain grants women the vote, with some qualifications. Voting rights only apply to those who are 30 years or over, and they (or their husbands) meet a property qualification. It would be another decade before the Equal Franchise Act is passed in 1928, giving women equal voting rights with men and enabling all women aged over 21 the ability to vote in elections.
In contrast, women in Australia (at least those who were British subjects) had won the right to vote between 1895 and 1908 depending on the state in which they lived.
21 March 1918
Germany launches the Spring Somme offensive. By the end of the first day, 21 March 1918, the Germans has made significant advances and taken 21,000 British soldiers prisoner. German troops force through enemy lines and move towards Paris. In five days, the Germans have recaptured all the ground they had lost in the previous two years.
14/15 April 1918
C.S. Lewis, the future author of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, is wounded in action while attempting to capture Riez-du-vinage as part of the Somerset Light Infantry. While Lewis is one of the men successful in reaching the village, he is then hit by shrapnel.
He later writes:
“Just after I was hit, I found (or thought I found) that I was not breathing and concluded that this was death. I felt no fear and certainly no courage. It did not seem to be an occasion for either.”
As it turns out, Lewis is not dead, although he later discovers he has lost good friends in the same battle.
25 April 1918
Australian forces recapture the French town of Villers-Bretonneux. Only the day before, 24 April, the Germans had captured Villers-Bretonneux and were moving towards Amiens; however, with only a few hours preparation, a counter attack was enacted, involving two Australian brigades and three British battalions.
Official War Correspondent, Charles Bean, apparently writes in his diary, “I don’t believe they have a chance.”
However, they do indeed re-take the town.
The residents of Villers-Bretonneux have never forgotten the actions of Australian troops. After the war, the local school would be rebuilt with money raised by school children in Victoria. Still today, there are signs in the classrooms of the local primary school proclaiming, ‘N’oublions jamais, l’Australie.‘ Never forget Australia.
April – June 1918
This period marks the initial outbreak of the Spanish Flu, although it results in relatively fewer deaths compared to outbreaks later in the year, with the highest deaths occurring from October to December 1918. Spanish Flu would eventually infect 500 million people worldwide, with 50 million dying from it.
The Spanish Flu was so named, not because the flu started there, but because the Spanish had remained neutral during the First World War, and so freely reported news of the virus.
3 August 1918
Australia House, home to Australia’s High Commission, opens in London. It is opened by King Georg V, and marks Australia’s first diplomatic mission overseas. Much of the interior stone, marble and timber needed for construction had been shipped from Australia during the First World War. Andrew Fisher, who had been High Commissioner since 1916, is the first occupant of Australia House.
8 August 1918
The Battle of Amiens (also known as the Third Battle of the Somme) begins. Setting out from Villers-Bretonneux and Hamel, Australian and Canadian troops only take three hours to overrun the enemy’s front line. German General Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff declares 8 August “the black day of the German army”.
2 September 1918
Sir John Forrest dies while en route to England for cancer treatment. Sir John Forrest had been an explore, surveyor, cabinet minister in Australia’s Federal Parliament, and Western Australia’s first Premier.
22 September 1918
Due to advances in direct communications, Prime Minister Billy Hughes makes the first direct call, via wireless telegraphy, from England to Australia, speaking from London to Sydney. Minister for the Navy, Sir Joseph Cook, also sends a message.
4 October 1918
Germany asks allies for an armistice. In the early hours of 4 October, newly appointed German Chancellor Max von Baden sends a telegraph message to the administration of President Woodrow Wilson in Washington requesting an armistice. Wilson makes it clear that the Allies will only deal with a democratic Germany.
Although German General Ludendorff had initially been in favour of the Armistice, he changes his mind, now believing the war should continue; however, within a month, Ludendorff resigns, opening the way to armistice negotiations.
5 October 1918
Australian forces conduct its final operation in the Battle of Hindenburg Line. Australian troops take the village of Montbrehain, and with that, the Hindenburg Line is completely broken. By this time, most Australian troops have been fighting for six months continuously. The Australians hand the area over to American troops, and withdraw to rest.
30 October 1918
Turkey requests an armistice. The Armistice of Mudros, named because it was signed at the port of Mudros, on the island Lemnos, is signed between the Ottoman Empire and Great Britain. Some of the conditions can be seen on this ‘official bulletin’, which has been glued into the diary of my great-grandfather, Captain Edmund Matthew Prince.
4 November 1918
English poet Wilfred Owens is killed in action, aged 25, just one week before the Armistice.
Wilfred Owens had written most of his poetry between August 1917 and September 1918, although only 5 are published before his death. Seven more poems would be published posthumously in 1919, with collections to follow in the years to come.
Germany signs the Armistice to end hositilities, which comes into effect at 11 am. There is much celebrating at home, but for the servicemen still on active duty, it may be many weeks or even months before they are demobbed, and can escape the devastation and desolation that surrounds them. Many of them will never fully leave the war behind, as its physical and pschological scars follow them home.
Books published in 1918
While not a complete list by any means, here are three titles you may recognise:
Film News in 1918
Charlie Chaplin begins producing his own films under First National Films. These include A Dog’s Life, Little Women and Little Orphan Annie.
Over to You
So, that’s my list of 18 things that happened in 1918 – what else would you have included?