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All Quiet on the Western Front Timeline

Instructor: Ian Matthews

Ian teaches college writing and has a Master's in Writing and Publishing

'All Quiet on the Western Front' is probably the most well-known World War I novel of all time. It tells the story of Paul Baumer and his company in the German army fighting on the Western front. Let's look at the timeline of the real events and the events in the novel.

'The Great War'

On June 28, 1914, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary was assassinated. This kicked off World War I, a conflict between the Allied forces of Britain, France, and Russia, and the Central Powers Germany and Austria-Hungary. By the end of the war America, Japan, Italy and others were also involved, and the death toll rose close to 20 million civilians and military. Though it doesn't reference any battles by name, 'All Quiet on the Western Front,' follows the timeline of the real war closely. Let's look at the timeline of World War I and check in with Paul Baumer along the way.

1914

In July of 1914, Paul Baumer and his high-school classmates join the German army at the encouragement of their teacher, Kantorek. He promises them that they will find glory and honor fighting for the fatherland, and they run off to sign up. They're in training for several months, under a real jerk of a sergeant named Himmelstoss.

In August of 1914, Germany made the first major aggressive act of the war by invading Belgium; Britain declared war on them shortly after.

By the end of 1914, Paul's company (which includes several of his classmates and an older man nicknamed Kat) is on the Western front, fighting to repel a French attack on the German trenches. The boys' idealism is squashed quickly, as the French shell them and use chlorine gas on their positions.

1915

1915 in real-world World War I was relatively uneventful; countries developed and used new technologies, like more advanced gas weapons and combat airplanes, but little ground changed hands.

The novel actually opens here, with the soldiers of Paul's company eating a meal after a major battle has killed 70 of their original 150 troops.

The biggest event of 1915 in the novel is the death of a soldier named Franz Kemmerich, one of Paul's original classmates. Kemmerich has been wounded and his leg's been amputated, and when we meet him, the boys are visiting him in the hospital. He suffers for days, and Paul stays by his side the whole time. It's the novel's first close examination of death, but not its last by a long shot. Paul, shaken by Kemmerich's death, returns to his unit.

In May of 1915, Italy jumped into the real war on the Allied side by declaring war on Austria-Hungary. Paul's company spends the rest of this year fighting on the front, laying barbed wire and facing constant artillery fire. This scares the newer soldiers, but the boys from Paul's class are hardened by now. The artillery barely fazes them.

1916

1916 saw two of the biggest battles of the war: The Battle of Verdun, in which the French troops held their trench line from February to December of 1916, and the Battle of the Somme, a failed Allied attack that left millions of their own troops dead. The Somme was also the first use of tanks in warfare; however, these early tanks were ineffective due to constant mechanical failures.

Paul's company, again, spends this year on or near the Western front. While none of the battles they see are named, they face some intense clashes with French soldiers. The barbed wire they laid proves basically useless. Paul becomes harder and harder, eventually feeling almost like an animal.

At the end of 1916, Paul's company is down to just 32 men. Many of Paul's classmates are still standing, but a few have been killed. While swimming, they see a group of French girls and arrange a rendezvous. Paul wants to reclaim some of his innocence and humanity by sleeping with one of the girls, but he just can't. He's sent home on leave at the end of the year.

1917

Paul is away from the front for a few months. On his leave at home, he discovers that he's become a new person; his room feels alien and he wishes he was back at the front. After visiting Kemmerich's mother, he returns to the front in June, where he guards some Russian prisoners for a while and takes some more training.

June of 1917 was a huge turning point in the Allies' favor, as America finally jumped in to help. All sides still took massive casualties over the rest of 1917, but the writing was mostly on the wall for the Central Powers at that point.

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