As I’ve said in a previous blog, I’m working on a new product at the moment, an app on World War One. As this is such a huge historical event, I obviously knew quite a lot about it before. However, doing more detailed research has been a bit of an eye-opener.
Interspersed through the awfulness of the war are some really, really terrible days. The first day of the battle of the Somme comes to mind – that was certainly the worst for Britain (not just in that war, but in the entire history of the British army). Ten thousand British soldiers died that day, and tens of thousands more were wounded. The French lost between 10,000 and 20,000 killed on the first day of the Nivelle offensive.
These were exceptionally awful days, and although most of the casualty figures I’ve gathered refer to entire battles, lasting over weeks or months, there were probably other days, especially on the Eastern Front, were 10,000 or more men lost their lives (I’m excluding the wounded here).
But, for me, one day stands out – the 13th December, 1916. A day when 10,000 Italians (and I believe, some Austro-Hungarians, although my sources differ on that point) died. It happened in the Dolomite mountains.
And it didn’t happen in a battle.
The men were killed by avalanches. Avalanches! 10,0000 men! In the middle of a terrible war.
How can avalanches kill so many people?
And when there is so much opportunity to die by bullets, grenades, shells, shrapnel, splinters, poison gas, bombs, bayonets, gangrene, drowning in puddles in No-Man’s-Land, and the myriad other ways war kills you – well, to be killed by an avalanche seems – I don’t know – unfair!
By Peter Britton