World War I started in July of 1914 as the result of conflict between 2 sets of allies: Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire, versus Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy, Japan and ultimately, the United States. Serb nationalist, Gavrilo Princip, assassinated Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in June of 1914, and this sparked the international conflict. Princip represented Serbs who wanted independence from Austria-Hungary. After the assassination, Austria-Hungary wanted to declare war on Serbia but was worried this might involve Serbia’s ally Russia. Once Germany agreed to provide military support to Austria-Hungary, it was off to the races, with Austria-Hungary goading Serbia into a fight. The Serbs did indeed call upon their alliance with Russia and by July of 1914, various allied countries were on opposing sides of a devastating 4-year war. 10 million soldiers had died by the time World War I ended in 1918.
The Germans kicked off the fighting by simultaneously invading France via Belgium and attacking Russia to the East. At first, Germany succeeded in getting within 30 miles of Paris, until French and British troops pushed them back to northern France. The two sides found themselves in a stalemate and, for the next four years, settled into fighting over small areas of land from miles and miles of trenches they had dug in the ground.
Helena White’s grandfather was a doctor in the British Army during World War I. He left behind a diary that recorded his observations and experiences from one of history’s most violent and destructive wars. His diary entries reveal his interest in the people around him, who he seemed to be continually mining for information. Although an upper-middle-class gentleman himself, her grandfather clearly held the ordinary soldier in high regard. Entries have related jokes, retaining the Cockney pronunciation. The diary records his time in Northern France as he moved closer and closer to the front lines until he ends up in a trench just a few hundred yards from the German line.