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950 Hours, Almost One Hundred Years Ago

By Daniel Hubbard | November 11, 2013

Just about every year at this time, I write something about the First World War. The anniversary of the end of that horror is the reason that Veterans Day falls on the 11th of November.

French Troops in their trench at Verdun, 1916

French troops in their trench at Verdun, 1916

Last year, the last living veteran of the war died. Next year, July 28 will bring the one hundredth anniversary of the day in 1914 when the war began. After the assassination of their heir to the throne, the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia. It was done knowing that Germany would lend support if needed. That date is years before the United States became involved but within days of that first declaration, Europe was at war.

The reason that the Austrians wanted guarantees of German support was Serbia’s sizable main ally, Russia. The army of the Russian Empire began to mobilize two days after the Austrian declaration. The Germans felt that their survival hinged on making sure that they did not fight a war simultaneously both in the west and in the east. They would go on the offensive and win the war in the west before the Russian Army was fully ready. On August 4, Germany invaded Belgium as way of getting its army into France as quickly as possible. It was believed by the German high command that the army had 950 hours to defeat France before they would be forced to turn it around to face east. The clock had begun to tick the moment the Russian army began to mobilize. As the clock ticked out the last of those 950 hours, the French and British stopped the German advance within artillery range of Paris. The 950 hours had run out. Four years later the clock was still ticking its last furious ticks and the German’s own prediction, defeat France in 950 hours or be defeated, was mere weeks from coming true.

My own relationship to the Western Front changed years ago. I’ve mentioned before that my wife’s grandfather had been in the trenches of the Western Front but on the German side. He started to keep a diary even before the war. He continued to keep it during his months of fighting. He continued after he was badly wounded and left the fighting for good. Sometime next year part of those diaries that her grandfather kept will be published as a part of a graphic novel. It will be printed in German and in French in remembrance of the one hundredth anniversary of those years that hollowed out the collective soul of a generation.

I wonder, what will it feel like to see all those drawings that will depict a piece of the history of my family, drawn as they will be with the intent of capturing a piece, not of my family’s history, but of the history of a continent?

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