In 1917, the second largest British city, after London, wasn’t in Britain at all. It was the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in France. The same could be said of the French Army, and the German. Each force on Europe’s Western Front was a metropolis requiring not just soldiers, guns, and ammunition, but every necessity of life, from toothbrushes to rubber stamps.
To service these vast cities of war, nations built new rail networks, roads, hospitals, food processing facilities, warehouses, and even brothels. In 1916, the British were supplying their troops with 2,925 cubic feet of tobacco a day – the volume of a semitrailer. Building just one mile of trenches required 900 miles of barbed wire, 6,000,000 sandbags, 1,000,000 cubic feet of timber, and 360,000 square feet of corrugated iron.
This is to say nothing of the munitions that were needed: At the height of the conflict, the BEF was going through 70,000 grenades a day.
Nothing is bigger than a world at war. One hundred years ago, a monster took hold of Europe, rending it in ways that no other war over thousands of years of history had ever done.