British World War I recruitment posters are happy, soldiers in crisp uniforms with the wide, naive smiles. They stand in stark contrast to the French posters, where the soldiers are war weary, their uniforms tattered and dirty.
The British had never seen a war like this one.
“They thought that it was going to last only a few months,” Angelique Bergeron, curator at the West Baton Rouge Museum, says.
The museum is commemorating the centennial anniversary of World War I with the exhibit, “100 Years after the War to End All Wars: 1914-2014.”
The show runs through Sunday, Oct. 26, and includes artifacts loaned by local museums and a vintage collection of British, French and American World War I era posters provided by Blair Murrah Exhibitions.
The American posters project a Hollywood toughness. The U.S. Department of Defense contracted Hollywood artists to design its recruitment material.
“The United States wasn’t in the war for long,” Bergeron says. “To them, this was a European war. And it’s ironic that this was to be the war to end all wars, yet it spawned the wars that would come after it.”
It also changed the landscape of world power.
“America emerged as the biggest world power after this war,” Bergeron says. “The British were the biggest up until this time, but this war left them in a lot of debt. They had to recover from so much afterward.”
World War I, also called the Great War, began on July 28, 1914, when Austria declared war on Serbia, exactly a month after Gavrilo Princip assassinated Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophia in Sarajevo.
Princip was a Bosnian Serb who wanted Southern Slavs to unite as Yugoslavia, which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
“But there were other reasons that led to this war,” Bergeron says. “After awhile, a lot of the soldiers probably didn’t know what they were fighting for. Tensions had been mounting in Europe for decades for a number of reasons.”
The Red Cross nurse uniform covering the dressmaker’s dummy in a corner of the gallery will conjure images from Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms” for literary fans. The uniform is on loan from the LSU Textile and Costume Museum, as are several others in the show.
The museum also includes a collection of German, French and Belgian helmets, a trench periscope, mess kits, intricate trench art created from used artillery shells and even a soldier’s prayer kit that belonged to Major Adrian Landry of Iberville.
Yet the artifact that probably will garner the most attention is the Chauchat machine gun on loan from the LSU Rural Life Museum. The Americans were awaiting delivery of Browning M1917 machine guns and used the Chauchat in the interim.
“This weapon cost more American lives than anything else, because it was poorly made,” Bergeron says. “Its parts weren’t interchangable with the Americans’ machine gun, and it often backfired.”