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The Armies of the Great War

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Military tactics before WW1 failed to keep pace with advances in technology. These advances, particularly on the Western Front in Europe, allowed the creation of strong defensive systems such as trenches, while barbed wire, artillery and machine guns made crossing the ground in between, ‘no-mans-land’, extremely difficult. It was into this that soldiers of the major powers on the Western Front, the Germans, the French, the British, Canadians, Anzacs found themselves placed in 1914, armed only with a rifle, bayonet and grenades. Later on in 1917 the Americans entered the conflict.

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British Army

British Army
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British Soldiers

The British Army uniform of 1914 was a camouflage drab colour. The thick woollen tunic and trousers had two breast pockets with two smaller pockets.


The British Brodie distinctive ‘soup bowl” shaped helmet was made from hardened manganese steel, virtually impervious to shrapnel balls from above. Introduced in 1916 ready for the  Battle of the Somme. 

British Army uniform of 1914. British Brodie helmet and cap
French Army

The French Army

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French Soldiers

The uniform and headgear worn by the French soldier on the Western Front evolved as the war progressed. plans were made for a change from the traditional blue coats and red trousers for infantry, this bright highly visible uniform was still in use at the beginning of the war. .

Some attempts were made at this early stage to reduce visibility by using a cloth cover to conceal the bright red top of the soldiers Kepi (peaked cap).

French Army uniform and headgear. The Kepi peaked cap and the Adrian
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German Army

The German Army

German Soldiers

German Army uniform and headgear. The Pickelhaube spiked helmet and the infantry field cap

Until 1910 each German state had its own particular uniform colour with distinctive design.


In 1910 the entire German army adopted the Feldgrau ‘Fieldgrey’ uniform. Red piping on the collar, pockets and edges was used to indicate infantry. The distinctive leather Pickelhaube, spiked helmet, had highly reflective brass and silver fittings.

Canadian Army

The Canadian Army

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Canadian Soldiers

Canadian Army uniform with the maple leaf

After Britain went to war in 1914, Canadians raised volunteer units that went on to form one of the finest units on the Western Front, the Canadian Corps.

Battles of note included the second Battle of Ypres, Vimy Ridge and Passchendalele.

Anzac Soldiers

Anzac Soldiers
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Anzac Soldiers

As with the Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders, known as the ANZACS, went to war after Britain in1914.


Many of them had their first action against Turkish forces in difficult fighting at Gallipoli, only to find themselves transferred to the Western Front in time for the battle of the Somme.

They continued to serve with distinction on the Western Front during the rest of the War.

Australian Army uniform (Anzac) with the slouch hat
US Armies

US Armies

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US Soldiers

The United States entered the first World War on the side of Britain and France in April 1917. However, the Americans did not have a large amount of trained troops ready to fight at this point, and rapidly recruited large numbers of men who began training with the aid of Britain and France. 

Initially American troops were assigned to fight with the British and French units, but as numbers grew American forces formed their own Divisions under US command. They began to undertake their own campaigns such as the Meuse-Argonne in 1918.

New Zealand uniform (Anzac) with the lemon squeezer hat
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