Nurses shared the dangers of the men whose wounds they tended. At aid stations close to the front lines, nurses often worked around the clock, especially after a big “push” brought a flood of casualties. In her diary, English nurse Vera Brittain describes sweating through 90-degree days in France, “stopping hemorrhages, replacing intestines, and draining and reinserting innumerable rubber tubes” with “gruesome human remnants heaped on the floor.”
War work gave women a new sense of pride and confidence. After the war, most women had to give up their jobs to men returning home. Still, they had challenged the idea that women could not handle demanding and dangerous jobs. In many countries, including Britain, Germany, and the United States, women's support for the war effort helped them finally win the right to vote, after decades of struggle.
How can total war increase the power of government and have a lasting political impact?
Women worked as nurses at the front in difficult and dangerous conditions. Here, a French general honors a nurse who took part in the battle of Verdun in 1916.
Despite inspiring propaganda, by 1917 the morale of troops and civilians had plunged. Germany was sending 15-year-old recruits to the front, and Britain was on the brink of bankruptcy.
Long casualty lists, food shortages, and the failure of generals to win promised victories led to calls for peace. Instead of praising the glorious deeds of heroes, war poets like British soldier Siegfried Sassoon began denouncing the leaders whose errors wasted so many lives.
You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you'll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.
—Siegfried Sassoon, “Suicide in the Trenches”
As morale collapsed, troops in some French units mutinied. In Italy, many soldiers deserted during the retreat at Caporetto. In Russia, soldiers left the front to join in a full-scale revolution back home.
Three years of war had hit Russia especially hard. Stories of incompetent generals and corruption eroded public confidence. In March 1917, bread riots in St. Petersburg erupted into a revolution that brought down the Russian monarchy. (You'll learn more about the causes and effects of the Russian Revolution in another lesson.) The new Russian government continued the war effort.
At first, the Allies welcomed the overthrow of the tsar. They hoped Russia would institute a democratic government and become a stronger ally. But in October of that year, a second revolution brought V. I. Lenin to power. Lenin had promised to pull Russian troops out of the war. Early in 1918, Lenin signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (brest lih TAWFSK) with Germany. The treaty ended Russian participation in World War I.
Russia's withdrawal had an immediate impact on the war. With Russia out of the struggle, Germany could concentrate its forces on the Western Front. In the spring of 1918, the Central Powers stood ready to achieve the great breakthrough they had sought for so long. But by then, Germany faced a new opponent. The United States had been dragged into the war.