Between 1914 and 1919, Europe was engulfed in the Great War, later called World War I (WWI). In this war, Britain, France, and Russia (the Allies) joined forces against Germany, Italy, and Austria-Hungary (the Central Powers).
This brutal conflict eventually threatened the United States too. After the U.S. joined the Allies in 1917, over 21,000 men from Utah went to Europe to help fight during World War I. Women also helped with the war effort at home and in Europe. One Utah woman even worked as an ambulance driver on the front lines!
George Grimshaw, Beaver
Men who enlisted in the military spent many months training in U.S. military bases before they were sent to Europe by ship. Those who fought along the Western Front in France experienced trench warfare and poisonous gas. George Grimshaw was a soldier in the US Army from Beaver, Utah. He had to learn to keep his gas mask with him at all times. He inscribed the words “I need thee every hour”–a hymn–on the strap of his carrying bag.
Soldiers communicated with their families at home by writing letters. The military censored every letter, marking out any words that might give away secret information to the other side. Grimshaw was careful not to share information about his location or any plans with his family. Even so, sometimes the censors marked out parts of his letters.
Grimshaw fought in the trenches for five months in 1919. He was sent to Germany after the Armistice was signed, ending the war, where he was part of the U.S. occupying forces after the war.
Maud Fitch, Eureka
Women helped the war effort in several ways. At home, women could work for the Red Cross or in wartime industries, where they replaced the thousands of young men who went away to fight. About 20,000 women served as nurses during WWI, many of them working near the front lines. A few women served as ambulance drivers, transporting wounded soldiers from the battlefields to the hospitals.
Utahn Maud Fitch was one of these ambulance drivers. She spent about one year working in northern France near the front lines, and was awarded the Croix de Guerre (French Cross) for her service. At 33 years old, Fitch purchased an ambulance and shipped it to Europe, then paid for her own room, board, vehicle maintenance, and gasoline for the year she worked on the front. She was able to do this because she was a member of a wealthy and well-known mining family from Eureka, Utah. The newspapers at home printed the letters she sent home to her family, which is how we know about her wartime experiences.
Although the U.S. and the Allied Forces won WWI, the war was truly devastating. More than 17 million people died and 20 million were injured. The Allied victory created major changes in the world economy and international relations. Many of these changes had dire outcomes, and created the conditions leading to World War II.