War and Social Upheaval: World War I--Ordinary People

Figure 1.--This portrait looks to have been taken during World War I and shows three generations of Germans. The grandfather may have been involved in the Franco-Prussian War and the little boy probably was involved in World War II.

Vast numbers of Europeans were caught up in the War. Millions were in fact killed, both soldiers and civilians. Many more had the course of their lives irevocably altered by the War. We want to have a look at some of the ordinary families in the different combatant countries. Here we will just provide hot links to pages that have images of families right before or during the War to show just who was involved in the War. The casualty figures are mind numbing and in fact so immense that they are difficuklt to comprehend. Looking at images of real people probably provide a better idea as to who was caught up in the War. In most cases we know little or nothing about the actual family.

Unknown Family (Germany, 1909)

This German middle-class family had eight children. The portrait of the chldren was taken in 1909. All three of the older boys were killed in the War. The two younger boys were not yet of military age. This is a good example of how powerfully the War affected families all over Europe.

Unknown Family (Germany, about 1915)

This German image is undated, but it is possible both father and son could have been caught up in the War. The portrait looks to have been taken during the War or shortly before. Look at the mother in this image and imagine how she would have been affected to have lost one or both of them.

Unknown Family (Germany, about 1915)

This German portrait is undated. We believe that it was taken during World War I, but it could have been taken a few years earlier. More likely is durng the War. The mother and child are clearly an affluent family. Surely the father is a ranking officer at the front. The mother is fashinably dressed. The boy wears an army uniform. On his belt he has a mock pistol holster and a sabre. Most intresting is his helmet.

Unknown Soldier and Brothers (Wales, about 1915)

All we know about these three brothers is that they are Welsh. They had their photograph taken in Cardiff, sometime during World War I. From the look at the soldier's uniform, he was a new recruit. The middle brother was a Boy Scout. The soldier is probably spending his last days at hime before beginning military training or being sent to the front in France. Certainly his brothr his very proud of him andinsisted on putting on his Scout uniform for the portrait.

John Travers Cornwell VC Boy 1st Class (England, 1900-16)

Ambrose McEvoy (Britain, 1878-1927) painteda portrait of John Travers Cornwell VC Boy 1st Class (1900-16). The portrait was painted after the boy's death. Cornwell was killed about 1916, but the portrait was painted about 1918-19. This painting was part of an intended series of portraits of Victoria Cross holders commissioned from McEvoy, a task he never completed. Cornwell was a 16-year-old forward gun sightsetter on HMS Chester. He was involved in the Battle of Jutland (May 31, 1916). ComweII remained at his post despite fatal injuries. His portrait became the icon for this complex and ambiguous battle. Cornwell was a perfect example both to smalI boys on how to serve their country, and to those adults who had failed to recognise the importance of duty and self-sacifice at a time of mass unionisation, strikes and suffragette protest.

William 'Bubbles' James (England, 1882?-1974)

In World War I was another sailor called William 'Bubbles' James. His grandfather was the famous painter called Sir John Everett Millais. A gifted artist from childhood. A story here. In 1886 he painted a picture called 'A Child's World.' The boy in the picture was his grandson William James. This painting became famous in advertisements for Pears Soap. This advertisement was called 'Bubbles.' Hense William being associated with this picture all his life. He made the Royal Navy his career. He became Admiral Sir William James. He wrote many books and died aged 92 in 1974.


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Created: October 9, 2002
Last updated: January 25, 2004