Quotations – The human costs of war

These World War I quotations about the human costs of the war have been compiled by Alpha History authors. They feature statements from contemporary figures, political leaders, military commanders, service personnel, anti-war campaigners and historians of World War I. We will update this page with new quotes from time to time. If you would like to suggest a quotation, please contact Alpha History.

“In the account book of the Great War, the page recording the Russian losses has been ripped out. The figures are unknown. Five million, or eight? We ourselves do not know… All we know is that, at times, fighting the Russians, we had to remove the piles of enemy bodies from before our trenches, so as to get a clear field of fire against new waves of assault.”
Paul von Hindenburg, German commander

“The use of chemicals left an abhorrent image of helpless soldiers in makeshift gas masks, struggling for breath, or ranks of soldiers blinded by mustard agent attacks. In reality though, chemical weapons caused relatively few deaths and injuries compared to conventional weapons. When the war was over, chemical weapons had caused less than 4 per cent of all casualties… Their use did not fundamentally affect the course of World War I, or arguably of any war since then.”
Eric Croddy, writer

“A soldier (just returned from the Western Front) was so disordered while he was going down the stairs into the London tube station, he became suddenly aware of the crowds of people coming up; he looked haggardly about, and evidently mistaking the hollow space below for the trenches and the ascending crowd for Germans, fixed his bayonet and charged. But for the women constable on duty at the turn of the staircase, who was quick enough to divine his trouble and hang on to him with all her strength to prevent his forward advance, he would have wounded many and caused danger and panic.”
Mary Allen, British policewoman

“The trench experience was one of the most sustained and systematic shattering of the human senses: it stripped man of the protective layers of civilisation and thrust his naked, fragile body between the ravages of industrial modernity, on the one hand, and the chaos of formless matter on the other.”
Tim Kendall, writer

“All the horrors of all the ages were brought together; not only armies but whole populations were thrust into the midst of them… Merchant ships and neutral ships and hospital ships were sunk on the seas and all on board left to their fate… Every effort was made to starve entire nations into submission, without regard to age or sex. Monuments and cities were smashed by artillery. Bombs were cast down from the air indiscriminately. Poison gas stifled or seared the soldiers. Liquid fire was projected upon their bodies. Men fell from the air in flames, or were smothered in the dark recesses of the sea.”
Winston Churchill, British prime minister


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