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1915 - First World War

First World War - first full year of war, in which the British and French undertook a series of unsuccessful attacks against the Germans on the Western Front

At the start of 1915 the Allies and the Germans had established themselves in a line of trenches running from the Channel to the French-Swiss border. Until March 1915, artillery exchanges, sniping and mining operations were the main activities on the British Expeditionary Force’s front.

As both sides settled down for the first winter of the war, the weather proved harder to contend with than the enemy in some sectors. Artillery bombardment rapidly destroyed trenches, which had been built quickly and tended to be simple affairs. The bad weather and the destruction of pre-war drainage ditches also led to widespread flooding. But no matter how cold or wet they were, the soldiers had to remain in the line.

1915 witnessed a number of major battles in World War One, not least at Gallipoli, Ypres and Loos. 1915 was also the year when poison gas (chlorine) was used for the first time.


Timeline of Events in 1915

Further Reading


National Army Museum - 1915: Early Trench Battles

Thought CoWorld War I: A Stalemate Ensues

National Archives - Letters from War: How did these men experience the conflict?

1915 - Armenian Genocide

Armenian Genocide - the Ottoman government systematically exterminates 1.5 million Armenians, mostly citizens within the Ottoman Empire

armenian genocide.png

On April 24, 1915, the Armenian genocide began. That day, the Turkish government arrested and executed several hundred Armenian intellectuals.. By the early 1920s, when the massacres and deportations finally ended, between 600,000 and 1.5 million Armenians were dead, with many more forcibly removed from the country. Today, most historians call this event a genocide: a premeditated and systematic campaign to exterminate an entire people. However, the Turkish government still does not acknowledge the enormity or scope of these events.

Following the first killings, ordinary Armenians were turned out of their homes and sent on death marches through the Mesopotamian desert without food or water.  Frequently, the marchers were stripped naked and forced to walk under the scorching sun until they dropped dead. People who stopped to rest were shot.


At the same time, the Young Turks created a “Special Organization,” which in turn organized “killing squads” to carry out, as one officer put it, “the liquidation of the Christian elements.”These killing squads were often made up of murderers and other ex-convicts. They drowned people in rivers, threw them off cliffs, crucified them and burned them alive. In short order, the Turkish countryside was littered with Armenian corpses.


Further Reading


Armenian Genocide Museum - Why was the Armenian Genocide perpetrated?

Armenian National Institute - Armenian Genocide

BBC Armenian Genocide Dispute

Shackleton's Antarctic Expedition - a failed attempt to make the first land crossing of the Antarctic continent turned into an epic feat of endurance

The South Pole had been conquered a few years prior by Roald Amundsen, so Ernest Shackleton set a more ambitious goal: Land on Antarctica and cross 1,800 miles over the entire continent, an endeavor he named the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition.


Shackleton took a hand-picked crew of 28 into the frozen Weddell Sea. The ship soon encountered an unexpected density of pack ice. After more than two months of halting progress, Endurance became hopelessly icebound. The grand expeditionary plan was done for; the new goal was to hunker down and prepare to spend the winter in the ice.

Sled dogs were moved off the ship and into igloos on the ice, and the ship was converted into a winter habitat. To maintain morale, the crew exercised on the ice and played games indoors. Frank Hurley, the expedition’s photographer, entertained himself by tromping around and making dramatic compositions with the trapped ship and ice formations. 

Meanwhile, the ship drifted with the movement of the ice floes around it, at the mercy of their immense, crushing mass. On Oct. 27, 1915, the ship was squeezed to the breaking point, and Shackleton gave the order to abandon Endurance. After a brief attempt at a march, the crew built a camp on the ice, retrieving supplies and lifeboats from the Endurance until it finally sank on. They settled in for a more than three-month stay at “Patience Camp.” Supplies dwindled. The dogs were eaten, and still the 28 men drifted. Land was distantly visible but inaccessible across the broken ice.


On April 8, 1916, the floe they were living on began to break up. The 28 men crowded into the three lifeboats, and began to navigate a treacherous maze of ice and sea, aiming in the direction of what they hoped was a whaling outpost.

About a week later they made landfall on Elephant Island, a rocky crag inhabited only by penguins and seals. It was their first taste of terra firma in 497 days, but their journey was not over.

From Elephant Island, the only human settlements they had a chance of reaching were the whaling stations on South Georgia Island — 920 miles away. Shackleton ordered one of the 22.5-foot lifeboats to be fortified and prepared for a perilous open sea crossing. On April 24, 1916, Shackleton set out with five men and a month of provisions. He knew that if they did not reach help after a month, they were doomed anyway. The rest of the men stayed behind on Elephant Island, building a makeshift shelter out of the other two lifeboats.

For 14 grueling days, the men on the James Caird endured gale-force winds, monstrous waves and a constant soaking of freezing spray. The little boat was perpetually coated in ice and in danger of capsizing. Finally, they made it to the southern coast of South Georgia Island. The men were exhausted and the boat was nearly sunk.

There was one last hurdle: The human settlements were on the north side of the island. In one final burst of effort, Shackleton and two others made a non-stop 36-hour crossing of the island’s mountainous and uncharted interior. On May 20, they at last reached civilization. It would take another three months to return through the pack ice surrounding Elephant Island, but on Aug. 30, 1916, the last of the men were rescued and safe.


Further Reading


Cool Antarctica - Sir Ernest Shackleton's Trans-Antarctica Endurance Expedition

1915 - Shackleton expedition
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