WWI Heroes Everyone Should Know - Information for KS2/KS3
Updated: Apr 22
There were many heroes who fought and died in WWI, sadly we can't do them all justice in this article. Instead, we hoped to select heroes that perhaps you haven't heard of. So that their names and deeds can continue to be passed down from generation to generation.
The 'Harlem Hellfighters' are legendary. They were an all-black National Guard Unit who were amongst the first Americans to arrive in Europe. Henry Johnson is perhaps their most famous member.
On May 14th, 1918, Henry and Needham Roberts, a fellow 'Hellfighter' were on sentry duty when they are attacked by twenty German soldiers. Both men were quickly wounded, Needham so badly he was out of action, but Henry fought back; lobbing grenades and firing his rifle.
Unbelievably he was shot several time and his weapon jammed. But that didn't stop Henry from using his rifle as a club until it fell apart in his hands.
Henry's only weapon left was a knife, he pulled it from his sheath and fought back ferociously until the raiding party retreated.
Henry had suffered an astonishing 21 wounds from gunfire and bayonet but somehow, against the odds, he had fought the enemy off.
You've likely heard of the Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen, the German fighter pilot ace who downed eighty planes from 1916 to 1918. You may not have heard of the French pilot Georges Guynemer. Georges may not have had as many kills as the Red Baron but that doesn't stop his adventures from being extraordinary.
During an epic dogfight in June 1917, Georges was in aerial combat against Ernst Udet, a German fighter ace. Both pilots were experts, forcing their delicate planes to dance through the sky as they dodged and weaved. Each pilot desperate to strike the other with shots from their cannons, whilst avoiding return fire. It was a battle of life and death.
Suddenly Ernst's weapons jammed, he was certain he was killed. Then something incredible happened, Ernst noticed that Georges was waving his hand. What could this mean?
It soon became clear; Georges had spotted that Ernst's weapons had misfired and, not wanting to be unsporting, acknowledged the incident with a wave and then flew off.
Talk about chivalrous!
Being a hero doesn't mean that you have fight in combat. There's no better example of that than Edith Cavell, a nurse who saved over two hundred Allied Soldiers, helping them escape German occupied Belgium.
She harboured a mind-blowing ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY FIVE soldiers in her own home, providing them with fake identification so they could escape from the country.
Sadly she was betrayed by a German collaborator and was captured. Despite international calls of outrage, with many countries demanding clemency, Edith was shot and killed by firing squad in 1915.
She died a hero and has been honoured in the intervening years by many streets, nursing schools and gardens being named after her all over the world.
Have you heard of the Russian Battalion of Death? You have now. This was a Russian Battalion that was all-female, consisting of some 300 soldiers and led by Maria Bochkareva.
There were several all-female Battalions serving in the Russian Military, some working in communications, some in Naval. However, the 1st Battalion of Death were the only to see frontline action at the Kerensky Offensive on the Eastern Front against the German Army.
When ordered to go over the top the Battalion of Death, unlike their male counterparts, did not hesitate. They charged into battle and managed to force their way through three German trenches. Unfortunately, due to a lack of reinforcements, they were forced to fall back.
Bochkareva continued to lead, was wounded twice and awarded medals for bravery on three separate occasions.
Flora Sandes was a British woman who was a St John's Ambulance volunteer who travelled to Serbia to serve as a Nurse. However, she became separated from her colleagues and, as you do, ended up being enrolled in the Serbian Army - as a soldier!
For Flora it was a dream come true. She told a colleague: "I've always wished to be a soldier and to fight."
Yes, Flora has the impressive distinction of being the only British woman to fight in the trenches of WWI. She fought so bravely that she was promoted to a sergeant-major! After being wounded by a grenade she was awarded with Serbia's highest military honour; the Order of the Karadorde's Star.
Finally, after the war, she was promoted to the rank of Captain. You can read all about her extraordinary life in her autobiography 'An English Woman-Sergeant in the Serbian Army'.
What. A. Legend.
If you liked what you just read, why not consider donating to support the blog? It's thanks to awesome people like you that we are able to continue creating content for this History Resource.
Help keep these resources free by donating today! Any amount is greatly appreciated.