Zikhron Ya'akov, Palestine
October 9, 1917
Zikhron Ya'akov, Palestine
Sarah Aaronsohn's story is one of personal courage and risk to further a cause. A Jewish woman who lived in Palestine thirty years before the state of Israel was founded, Aaronsohn risked her own safety to work as an intelligence agent (spy) during World War I. She helped provide vital war information to the British, in the hopes that the British would defeat the Ottoman Turks who ruled Palestine and help the Jewish people establish a homeland there. Though she died violently as a result of her efforts, her work helped save the lives of many British soldiers. She is honored as a hero in Israel and by many Jews around the world.
Child of Refugees
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Kemal, Mustafa Atatürk
Salonika, in the Ottoman Empire
November 10, 1938
Military leader, political leader, statesman
The name Atatürk means "Father of the Turks," and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk earned the title by devoting his life to making positive changes in his native land. Often called the founder of modern Turkey, Atatürk was a great general who defeated invading armies and led a revolution to gain independence for Turkey. He also was a great visionary who understood the kinds of changes that would be necessary for Turkey to join the new Europe that would emerge after World War I. As president of Turkey for fifteen years, Atatürk introduced many changes and reforms in Turkish law and society. Though some...
(The entire section is 1918 words.)
Bishop, William "Billy" Avery
February 8, 1894
Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada
September 11, 1956
Palm Beach, Florida
Flying ace, head recruiting officer of the Royal Canadian Air Force
Canadian Billy Bishop rose to great fame as a flying ace in World War I. With seventy-two victories, Bishop was second only to the Red Baron of Germany, whose record stood at eighty downed enemy planes. Bishop maintained his enthusiasm for flying throughout his lifetime, and as director of the air force during World War II (1939–45), he recruited thousands of airmen into the Canadian air force.
Saved from School by the War
Born William Avery Bishop on February 8, 1894, in Owen Sound, Ontario, Bishop led a reckless childhood, regularly skipping school to play pool at the local YMCA. Upon graduation his academic record was not good enough to get him into...
(The entire section is 1966 words.)
December 4, 1865
Swardeston, Norfolk, England
October 12, 1915
Nurse, humanitarian, martyr
Accused of helping Allied prisoners escape their German captors during World War I, British-born nurse Edith Cavell was executed by a German firing squad in Brussels in 1915. Cavell had helped Belgian hospitals establish a modernized system of nursing education and patient care and had sheltered Allied soldiers in the clinic she supervised. Her death caught the notice of British propagandists (people who spread information to further or damage a cause), who portrayed this execution of a humanitarian as yet another example of German brutality. Cavell's death caused such a storm of protest that Kaiser Wilhelm (1859–1941) decreed that any future execution of a woman would require his...
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December 1, 1876
Lafayette County, Missouri
October 2, 1953
San Francisco, California
Journalist, government bureaucrat
Journalist George Creel was a pioneer in applying the tools of modern advertising and public relations to the cause of national unity during World War I. Within a week of the United States entering into the conflict, Creel was appointed by President Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924) to head the Committee on Public Information (CPI), whose mission was to create a positive image of the American war effort in newspapers, magazines, motion pictures, and other media. During the Progressive Era, just before the war, Creel had served as the editor of several newspapers that supported Wilson's...
(The entire section is 2219 words.)
June 6, 1872
Darmstadt, Hesse, Germany
July 16, 1918
Empress of Russia
Alexandra Fyodorovna was czarina, or empress, of Russia during a very turbulent time in history. Her husband, Czar Nicholas II, was a weak ruler with little interest in matters of state, and he was easily influenced by his strong-willed wife. Because Alexandra influenced the czar, who had absolute power over the lives of millions, the mistakes she made were magnified to huge proportions. Many people say that Alexandra was shallow and conceited. They blame her for prolonging the suffering of the Russian people and causing the fall of the czars of Russia. Others say that she was the product of a weak and corrupt system of royal families, but that she was basically a good woman who tried desperately to care for her...
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December 18, 1863
June 28, 1914
It is a sad fact that the best-remembered detail of the life of Franz Ferdinand is his death. Archduke Franz Ferdinand was the nephew of Austrian emperor Franz Josef (1830–1916) and the last heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Bosnia and Herzegovina was a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. While visiting the provincial capital of Sarajevo on official business, the archduke and his wife, Sophie, were killed by a Serbian named Gavrilo Princip (1894–1918). Princip belonged to a political group that was angered by Austro-Hun garian domination of Bosnia and Herzegovina. He felt that assassinating a high official of the empire would help Serbia's...
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October 4, 1851
March 20, 1929
Marshal Ferdinand Foch had a great influence on the French military during his lifetime. Head of the national military academy for three years, he led several French regiments in many of the critical battles of World War I. Near the end of the war he was made head of all the Allied armies, and his bold strategies and strong will helped ensure the victory over Germany in 1918. Though many have disagreed with his philosophy and his tactics, Foch is still viewed as the single person most responsible for the Allied victory in World War I.
(The entire section is 1665 words.)
June 19, 1861
January 30, 1928
Soldier, general, commander of British army
When World War I began, Douglas Haig was widely considered to be Britain's greatest soldier. However by war's end, Haig was just as widely considered a butcher, a distant leader who had sent hundreds of thousands of British youth to their deaths. Although the public view of Douglas Haig had been altered, Haig himself had not changed. From the start of his career he was entirely devoted to the principles of duty, honor, and hard work. These principles lay behind the orders he gave to the thousands of British soldiers who fought...
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September 3, 1859
July 31, 1914
Teacher, journalist, political leader
Though his life was cut short by an assassin's bullet, Jean Jaurès made a lasting contribution to French politics. A brilliant teacher, writer, and political thinker, Jaurès was most importantly an idealist who believed that society's hope lay not in fighting or struggle but in the free thoughts and dreams of its working people. Perhaps the greatest testimony to Jau rès's enduring contribution is that dozens of schools all over France have been named after him. A strong supporter of free dom and excellence in education for all, Jaurès might have been proudest of this legacy.
A Passion for Learning
Jaurès was born to lower-middle-class parents on September 3, 1859, in Castres, a...
(The entire section is 1761 words.)
July 8, 1867
Königsberg, East Prussia
April 22, 1945
During a career that lasted more than sixty years, Prussianborn Käthe Kollwitz created a large number of prints and drawings that earned her a reputation as one of the most important graphic artists of her era. Some of her works depict the impact of World War I on women and children and make a powerful statement about the horror of the war. Kollwitz was the daughter of liberal parents who instilled in her a lifelong hatred of militarism (the buildup of military power by governments) and social injustice. Kollwitz created works that reflected her concern for the oppressed, especially the suffering people in her own country. Among her earliest...
(The entire section is 2656 words.)
February 2, 1875
January 29, 1962
New York City, New York
The Austrian-born musician Fritz Kreisler was the world's leading violinist in the first decades of the twentieth century. He became especially popular with U.S. audiences in 1888 after his Boston and New York debuts as a twelve-year-old prodigy (a highly talented child). When World War I broke out in 1914, he served briefly in the Austrian army and was wounded in combat against the Russians. He was on a U.S. concert tour in 1917 when the United States entered World War I on the side of the Allies, which was composed of France, Great Britain, Russia, and later the United States. Because of Kreisler's previous war service, he was branded an "enemy alien" by many American...
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Lawrence, T. E.
August 15, 1888
Tremadoc, North Wales
May 13, 1935
Bovington Camp, Dorset, England
Scholar, writer, soldier, and adventurer
Scholar, writer, soldier, and adventurer, Thomas Edward Lawrence became an unwilling figure of exotic romance and daring during World War I. A student and admirer of Arab culture, Lawrence devoted his young adulthood to trying to help the Arab people achieve independence. The failure to achieve this goal, however, left him broken and disappointed, and he spent the rest of his life trying to escape the fame and public adoration that he had never wanted. Though many people honored him as a glamorous hero, others thought he was a conceited fraud who did not deserve the place he was given in history, as Lawrence of Arabia.
A Young Knight Prepares for...
(The entire section is 1898 words.)
April 22, 1870
January 21, 1924
Political leader, revolutionary
Vladimir Lenin was one of the most influential political leaders of the twentieth century. Born into a Russia that still had one foot in the Middle Ages (A.D. 500–c. 1500), he led a political movement that became the revolution that created the Soviet Union. Though many people criticize Lenin as a dictator and a terrorist, it must be acknowledged that he developed the practical theory of modern communism, organized the defeat of one of the most brutal monarchies in the world, and began the process that would make the Soviet Union a modern nation. Lenin dreamed of a world where working people would control their own governments. Though his dream has not been realized yet, his work and...
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April 9, 1865
December 20, 1937
By August 1916 the German army was struggling to survive a war it thought it should be winning. The great assault on the French fortresses at Verdun—which German general Erich von Falkenhayn (1861–1922) thought would "bleed France white" and crush the Allies' will to fight—had turned into a six-month-long bloodbath. German military and political leaders pushed Kaiser Wilhelm II (1859–1941), the German emperor, for a change. Late in August, the kaiser called on the country's two most illustrious military leaders: General Paul von Hindenburg (1847–1934) and his second in command, General Erich Ludendorff. Hindenburg and Ludendorff had become heroes by beating the...
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August 7, 1876
October 15, 1917
Exotic dancer and courtesan
Mata Hari has gone down in history as one of the most notorious and exotic spies involved in World War I. Yet there is some evidence that her celebrated conviction for spying for the German army may have been based on false evidence. In fact, Mata Hari may not have been a spy at all. Rather, it is possible that she was a victim of a frantically suspicious world at war; unable to see the danger around her, she may have trapped herself in an attempt to make quick money. The whole truth about Mata Hari may never be known, but she was a flamboyant woman with a flair for the dramatic, so perhaps she would be pleased to know that her legend and her mystery live on.
A Childhood in the Netherlands
Mata Hari's original name was...
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March 18, 1893
Oswestry, Shropshire, England
November 4, 1918
Sambre Canal, France
Soldier and poet
Some of the most powerful descriptions of war were written during World War I by the so-called war poets, mostly British soldiers in their twenties who wrote while fighting in France. Wilfred Owen is one of the most important war poets. He wrote eloquently about his service as an officer during the Battle of the Somme, which forced him to wrestle with the conflicts he saw between his duty as a soldier and his deep religious and pacifist beliefs. (Pacifists object to war as a means of settling disputes.) Owen strongly criticized the tragedy of war in his writings, but he fulfilled his military duty out of loyalty to his fellow soldiers. Helping lead his men...
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Pershing, John Joseph
September 13, 1860
July 15, 1948
General John Joseph Pershing is most famous for something he never said. The story goes that when he arrived in France in 1917, at the head of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF), he dramatically declared, "Lafayette, we are here!" This was a reference to the Marquis de Lafayette (1757–1834), the French general who crossed the Atlantic during the American Revolution (1775–83) to fight alongside George Washington. More than a hundred years later, Pershing and the American forces were returning the favor—but it wasn't Pershing who made the stirring statement of this fact; it was one of his colonels, Charles Stanton. Indeed, such a statement would have been...
(The entire section is 2129 words.)
April 24, 1856
July 23, 1951
Military and political leader
Henri-Philippe Pétain had already lived a full life before historic events made him first a hero and then a traitor to the homeland he had loved and served. World War I broke out in Europe as Pétain was nearing the age of sixty and thinking of retirement from his military career. He postponed retirement to lead his troops, and his victories made the people of France love him. Decades later, as World War II (1939–45) raged, France again called on the aging Pétain, and he became premier (position like that of prime minister) of a French republic at war against Hitler's Germany. Positive the Germans could not be defeated, Pétain made a...
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Richthofen, Manfred von
May 2, 1892
Breslau, Germany (now Wroc_aw, Poland)
April 21, 1918
Shot down over Vaux Kamsur Somme, France
Aviator and military leader
The short, intense life of Baron Manfred von Richthofen is perhaps a testament to one of the many great tragedies of war: Too many of its heroes die young. An enthusiastic sportsman in childhood, Richthofen became a skilled and deadly hunter of men as a German fighter pilot during World War I. A dedicated soldier, he helped his country's cause with his many victories in the air. He was a dramatic hero who would inspire German troops in two world wars and earn respect even from his...
(The entire section is 1876 words.)
October 8, 1890
July 23, 1973
Aviator and businessman
Eddie Rickenbacker is perhaps best remembered as the young World War I flying ace, pictured leaning against a plane in coveralls and a leather helmet, smiling with cocky self-assurance. Though he had countless brushes with death and may have seemed the kind of hero likely to die young, Rickenbacker survived two wars and lived to be eighty-two years old. During his lifetime, he saw the birth of the automobile and the airplane. He fell in love with those technologies, worked in the industries that produced them, and played a major part in making both automobile and airplane travel accessible to the average American.
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June 28, 1888
New York City, New York
July 4, 1916
American poet Alan Seeger is best remembered for "I Have a Rendezvous with Death," a poem that foreshadowed Seeger's death in battle during World War I. Seeger lived a bohemian (unconventional) lifestyle in New York's Greenwich Village before moving to France in 1912. When war broke out in 1914, he was one of the first Americans to enlist in the French Foreign Legion (a branch of the French military open to foreigners). In letters to his family and to American periodicals, he expressed the idealism and courage of many young men of his generation who answered the call of duty in World War I. On the Fourth of July 1916, nearly a year before the United States entered the war, came Seeger's own death, as he fell in battle while trying to liberate a French village...
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"This hitherto unknown sailor had filled the most conspicuous gap in German war literature by describing for the first time the response of the great masses of men in the army, the navy, and in industry to the social, economic, and political upheaval caused by the war."
—From Daniel Horn, ed. and trans., War, Mutiny and
Richard Stumpf was an ordinary German soldier, but he wrote an extraordinary diary. Unlike the officers and politicians who wrote memoirs for publication, Stumpf only wrote for himself. Instead of writing so that the world would remember him well or to "set the record straight," Stumpf wrote to amuse and entertain himself, to vent his anger, and to record what he knew about the war. He wrote daily and sometimes hourly to stave off the boredom of being an enlisted seaman from 1914 to the end of World War I. His diary stands as the best description of the life of a regular enlisted German during the war and the collapse of the Ger man Empire in 1918. No other account so accurately cap tures the little man's perspective. Stumpf's diary was the only personal history used by the Reichstag Investigating Com mittee in 1926 as it researched the causes of the two German navy mutinies (sailors not following the orders of their com manding officers) in 1917 and 1918 and the...
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July 11, 1877
April 12, 1967
"It is a great trial to me to write to inform you that your husband was killed this morning… . He has been so much my support through this difficult—and to me, uncongenial —work, and he has been so wise and kind in the help he has given me."
—John Thorburn, in a letter to Helen Thomas dated April 9, 1917, relating the death of her husband, Edward Thomas, in battle; reprinted in Dictionary of Literary Biography.
Helen Thomas was the wife of Edward Thomas (1878– 1917), one of England's most prominent poets in the first decades of the twentieth century. She was emotionally dev astated when he died in combat in April 1917, and she turned to writing to deal with her grief. Her two-volume autobiogra phy, As It Was (1926) and World Without End (1931), describes their life together and offers a detailed portrait of what life was like on the British home front during World War I. In her memoir, Thomas did not use the real names of the people she described, but it was obvious that she was writing an intensely personal account of her life with Edward. In 1972, under the supervision of Thomas's daughter Myfanwy, an edition was issued with a key to the characters' names. Uplifted by...
(The entire section is 1682 words.)
January 26, 1859
Berlin, Prussia (now Germany)
June 4, 1941
Doorn, The Netherlands
Kaiser (emperor) of Germany
For thirty years, from 1888 to 1918, Wilhelm II led Germany as its kaiser, or emperor, until he was forced to abdicate (resign from the throne) and go into exile after Germany's defeat in World War I. He went to the Netherlands and lived there in virtual isolation for twenty-three years He died in 1941, during World War II (1939–45), when the Netherlands was under German occupation. Wilhelm II was a grandson of Queen Victoria (1819–1901) of Great Britain and of Emperor Wilhelm I (1797–1888) of Prussia (the most powerful of the several German states that unified into the nation of Germany in 1871)....
(The entire section is 2123 words.)
December 28, 1856
February 3, 1924
President, scholar, frustrated peacemaker
Woodrow Wilson, a scholar and university president who entered public life after a successful academic career, is regarded as one of the most influential presidents in U.S. history, largely because of his leadership during World War I and his earnest, though unsuccessful campaign to persuade the U.S. Senate to join the League of Nations, an international assembly that would encourage nations to resolve their disputes through peaceful means. A Democrat, Wilson served as the twenty-eighth president of the United States, from 1913 to 1921. In his first term, he was able to concentrate on his domestic "New Freedom" programs, which increased the power...
(The entire section is 2851 words.)
York, Alvin C.
December 13, 1887
Pall Mall, Tennessee
September 2, 1964
Farmer, mountain man, humanitarian
The story of Sergeant Alvin C. York embodies one of the great contradictions of war. If killing is wrong, how can society justify war? Further, how can nations convince good people to suspend the normal rules of civilization during wartime so that they can kill the enemy? A religious man who had sincerely tried to become a better person through devotion to his church, York had never been more than fifty miles from his home when he was sent to fight in France during World War I. Although he was a most unwilling soldier, York used the shooting skills he...
(The entire section is 1899 words.)