Remarkable WW1 facts

We've compiled some of the most surprising facts about WW1 – in the trenches, at home, at sea, and in the air (not forgetting the contribution of our furred and feathered friends).

From the oldest combatant and one of the youngest VC recipients, to a highly-decorated flying ace and a very royal change of surname, see how they were documented, commemorated and celebrated in The Gazette.

Let us know what you think (and tell us your WW1 remarkable facts) via @TheGazetteUK.

War in the trenches

Britain’s oldest known combatant victim

Lt Henry Webber, 7th South Lancs battalion, was mentioned in Haig’s despatches (Gazette issue 29884). He died at Mametz Wood, 1916, age 67 (Gazette issue 29890). His commanding officer wrote: ‘He was so gallant and full of energy. We all had the greatest admiration and respect for him.’

Britain's youngest serving soldier

Pte Sidney Lewis, East Surrey Regiment, joined the army age 12, and fought with the 106th Machine Gun Company at the Battle of Delville Wood (Gazette issue 29884). He was sent home after his mother sent his birth certificate to the War Office, demanding his return.

The last surviving soldier of the trenches

Pte Henry John 'Harry' Patch, 7th Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, died in 2009, age 111, having fought in the battle of Passchendaele, 1917 (Gazette issue 30462). He said: “Millions of men came to fight in this war and I find it incredible that I am the only one left.”

9 out of 10 soldiers survived the trenches

Though conditions were often harsh and demoralising, ‘water-logged … knee deep in mud and slush’ (Gazette issue 29069), life in the trenches mostly entailed routine and fighting low morale. Most spent no more than two weeks at a time on the front line.

War at home

Whistling for a taxi was illegal

As was buying binoculars, flying a kite, feeding bread to horses and chickens, and loitering near bridges and tunnels, under the 1914 Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) (Gazette issue 28869).

DH Lawrence suspected of aiding German submarines

The English author, who lived in Cornwall with his German wife, was ordered to leave in 1917 under DORA, accused of signalling to submarine crews using lights from their cottage.  He went on to describe his harassment in the novel Kangaroo.

The Windsors were born

Saxe-Coburg and Gotha changed to Windsor.  On 17 July 1917, a royal proclamation (Gazette issue 30186) declared: 'The name of Windsor is to be borne by his royal house and family and relinquishing the use of all German titles and dignities'.

Household names

Authors JRR Tolkien (CBE, Gazette issue 45544), sculptor Henry Moore (OM, CH, Gazette issue 43082) and Sherlock Holmes actor Basil Rathbone (MC, for ‘conspicuous daring’, Gazette issue 30997) all served in the war.

War at sea

One of the youngest Victoria Cross recipients

John 'Jack' Cornwell joined the Royal Navy in 1915, age 16, without his father’s permission, and ‘remained standing alone at a most exposed post’ during the Battle of Jutland, despite suffering ultimately fatal shrapnel injuries. He received a posthumous Victoria Cross (Gazette issue 29752).

Camouflage dazzled

To protect merchant ships carrying food and military supplies to the front from enemy torpedoes, artist Norman Wilkinson, CBE (Gazette issue 38311), was said to be the first to suggest covering ships in bold shapes and violent contrasts of colour (dazzle camouflage) to confuse the enemy.

War in the air

Most decorated British fighter pilot

Major Edward 'Mick' Mannock was awarded more medals for courage than any other WW1 British fighter pilot: the Military Cross twice (Gazette issue 30287), the Distinguished Service Order 3 times (Gazette issue 30901), and the Victoria Cross posthumously (Gazette issue 31463).

Man’s best friends

Warrior the horse, first recipient of the Dickin Medal

He saw some of the bloodiest battles and was posthumously awarded a PDSA Dickin Medal for gallantry. His owner, General Jack Seely (Gazette issue 30568), penned a 1936 book about his trusty steed.

A pigeon saved lives

Pigeon Cher Ami, awarded the Croix de Guerre for heroic service, delivered a vital message from soldiers who had been cut off behind enemy lines (Gazette issue 31111). It read: ‘We are along the road parallel to 276.4. Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heaven's sake, stop it.’