The Armed Forces

“One may get used to rifle bullets and does, but you can never get used to the shells, they make such an awful noise,” wrote a soldier from Northern Ireland in a letter to his mother. “The German bullet is not made yet that is to kill me.”

Over one million British and Commonwealth soldiers lost their lives during the long four years of the First World War. Around 1.25 million were wounded, and a fifth of those were disabled for life. Then there were the mental scars of war; the British Army recorded 80,000 cases of “shell shock”, but historians now think that as many as one in five men suffered from what we would now call PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

It is little wonder. Life for soldiers in the trenches was grim: cold and muddy, with rats everywhere and the constant threat of shells, gas and gunfire.

When soldiers returned home to Britain, many spent years suffering in silence, never revealing the true horror of war to their loved ones. Instead they resolved to rebuild Britain, which was suffering from a huge economic deficit, a shortage of jobs, and debts which remain to this day.

For more on the Armed Forces during and after the First World War, visit The Royal British Legion. TRBL has also created free downloadable assemblies and lesson plans with the National Literacy Trust. There are six sets of five lesson plans, two each for Key Stages 2, 3 and 4, accompanied by an assembly plan for primary and secondary schools.

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Student vlogger Jack Edwards finds out more about his family history and his links to the First World War in this video.


  1. Find out more about Britain’s political and economic situation after the war. Then list what you think the three biggest priorities were for the government, and what you would have done about them if you had been in charge.
  2. Find out more about your own family’s history with the First World War, and put a presentation together for the class.
  3. Imagine you are a soldier living in the trenches of the Western Front. Write a letter home to a member of your family. What would you want to tell them?