In commemoration of Armistice Day we have put together a series of blogs looking at some of the men who fought in the First World War. Our images and information are drawn from our backlist, which unfortunately means we have not been able to include all the nations that fought in the war. Every nation that participated can be found mentioned at the start of the series.

We are starting our illustrated commemoration of the nations who fought in World War I with a look at Britain, Germany, France, Austria-Hungary and Belgium. By 4 August 1914 all five had been pulled into the conflict, with many convinced that it would be over in a matter of months. None of them could have envisaged the years of carnage that would follow.


Lance-corporal, 1st Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, 24th Division, late 1918.

Extract from Men-at-Arms 402: The British Army in World War I (2) by Mike Chappell

Illustrated by Mike Chappell

The appearance of the front-line ‘Tommy’ from early 1917 was altered by the issue of the ‘small box’ respirator, worn in its haversack on the chest when gas was likely to be encountered. He is dressed and equipped in ‘battle order’, which included steel helmet, rifle, bayonet, 150 rounds of ammunition in the pouches of his 1908 pattern webbing equipment, haversack, water bottle, mess tin, entrenching tool and respirator. He wears the leather jerkin issued in cold or wet weather; and note his B5 boots, with their distinctive toecaps. A flash in regimental colours of red over dark blue is stitched to his hessian helmet cover; and on his sleeves are ‘battle insignia’ indicating his division, brigade, battalion and company by their colours and shapes. The silhouette of the four-pointed divisional sign worn in blue identifies A Company of his battalion; below it, the cross shape identifies the second battalion within each brigade, and its red colour the senior brigade (17th) within the division. Below these are his badges of rank; and on the left forearm note a skill-at-arms badge (Lewis gun), good conduct chevrons (over five years served), and two wound stripes. The ‘overseas service’ chevrons above his right cuff indicate service on the Western Front since 1914.


Feldwebel, 200th Bavarian Mortar Company; Fort Douaumont, October 1916.

Extract from Men-at-Arms 407: The German Army in World War I (2) by Nigel Thomas

Illustrated by Ramiro Bujeiro

This Bavarian company sergeant-major behind the front line wears the M1916 Bavarian officers’ peaked cap with M1916 officers’ state cockade and a field-grey cover for the conspicuous red band. The field-grey collar of his M1916 field tunic has Bavarian ‘collar cord’ edging; his rank is shown by the combination of M1916 side buttons and an abbreviated L-shape of NCO Tresse, and his appointment by the double cuff braids. The engineers’ red-piped black shoulder straps bear in red ‘MW/200’. He carries a P08 pistol, M98/05 engineers’ saw-backed bayonet with officers’ knot, M1916 gas mask invisible here on the back of his belt, and his CSM’s ‘reporting book’ tucked into his tunic. Civilian walking sticks were a common affectation.



Général de division, France, 1914.

Extract from Men-at-Arms 286: The French Army 1914–18 by Ian Sumner

Illustrated by Gerry Embleton

He is wearing the relatively simple service dress for French senior officers, consisting of a tunique with gilt buttons and gilt embroidered epaulette straps, and breeches with leather leggings and ankle boots. His rank is displayed in the stars on his sleeve, and in his general officers' képi. The latter hears an additional line of silver braid indicating that the wearer is a général de division commanding an Army Corps. Some generals preferred the dolman, as seen in the photograph of de Castelnau on page 3, which featured seven rows of black braid across the chest, and narrow lines of black braid in an Austrian knot on the sleeves. General officers of cavalry divisions could wear the appropriate helmet. The cavalry manteau was preferred to the greatcoat by many generals, no matter what their original arm, and the stars of rank were placed on its collar, rather than the cuffs.



Korporal, k.u.k. Infanterieregiment No.27 ‘Albert I, König der Belgier’, summer 1914.

Extract from Men-at-Arms 392: The Austro-Hungarian Forces in World War I (1) by Peter Jung

Illustrated by Darko Pavlovic

This corporal represents the standard type of Austro-Hungarian infantry from ‘German’ regiments at the outbreak of war; his unit was raised in the Graz region of Styria in Austria. He wears the 1908 field uniform with Hosenspangen (small gaiters) and full equipment, and is armed with the M95 Mannlicher rifle. On the left side of his cap he displays the field sign of an oakleaf, typical for the first few weeks of the war only. Note the Schützenauszeichnung (marksmanship lanyard, 2nd Class) on his left shoulder; and the proficiency badge for Distanzschätzung (distance judging) on his right breast.


Private, 404th Kamyshinskiy Regiment (Opolchenie), 1915.

Extract from Men-at-Arms 364: The Russian Army 1914–18 by Nik Cornish

Illustration by Andrei Karachtchouk

From his service cap to his boots this man typifies a frontovik. Above the Romanov cockade on his cap is the ‘militia cross’ of the Opolchenie bearing the Tsar’s monogram (non-Christian militia wore an octagonal badge instead). The coloured side of the shoulder straps was red with yellow paint stencilling in both the regular and militia infantry; the 404th Regt was made up of the 214th, 215th and 216th Bns from Saratov. His medal is for the Russo-Japanese campaign in which he fought as a young regular. To supplement the pouches on his waistbelt he has slung two canvas bandoliers, each holding 60 rounds, over his shoulders. Hanging at his left hip is the ‘bread bag’, the large haversack that did duty as a knapsack for non-Guard infantry; officially it was supposed to accommodate two shirts, a pair of drawers, two pairs of foot clothes (worn by Russians in place of socks), towel, mittens, sewing kit, 4½lbs of biscuit, salt, rifle cleaning kit, and cup.




Further Reading

If you are interested in delving into the history of World War I then click here to view our World War I Period Page.


Part One: Osprey Remembers... Part Three: Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Italy and Turkey

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