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European Notables who served in World War One

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Film and theatre
*Fritz Lang (Austria)- Acclaimed and highly influential Film Director associated with the German Expressionist movement of the 1920s-30s and who later directed films for Hollywood after becoming a US Citizen in 1939. He is best remembered for his Silent era masterpiece Metropolis (1927), the murder-thriller M (1931) and the Film Noir classic The Big Heat (1953).In 1914, Lang was drafted into the Austrian Army and fought in Russia and Romania. He was wounded three times and also suffered severe shell-shock in 1916. He ended the war with the rank of Lieutenant.

Art, Music & Literature
*Egon Schiele (Austria)- Painter of the early Expressionist Movement during the pre-WW1 period. Three days after he got married, Schiele was called up for military duty in June 1915. Deemed to be un-suitable for frontline service, he served as a prison-camp guard for Russian POWs in 1916. In October 1918, Schiele died of Spanish Flu at the age of 28, only three days after the same disease had claimed his wife.


Film and Theatre
*James Whale (UK) - British-born film director who had a successful career in Hollywood helming numerous films, the most famous of which are 'Frankenstein', 'Waterloo Bridge', 'The Man in the Iron Mask' and the big-budget musical 'Showboat'. In the Great War, he served as an officer in the British army with the rank of Second Lieutenant, enlisting in 1915 and seeing considerable action on the Western front. He was captured in August 1917 and spent the remainder of the war in a POW camp. Highly traumatized by his wartime experiences, they were a major factor in his eventual suicide by drowning in his Hollywood home in 1957. The recent film "Gods and Monsters", which starred Ian Mackellen and Brendan Fraser, depicted the final months of his life albeit in a semi-fictional sense.

  • Nigel Bruce (UK)- Character-Actor on stage, radio & screen 1930s-1950s. Best-known for playing Dr Watson, the sidekick to Sherlock Holmes in 14 films about the famous detective duo (Holmes was always played by his good friend Basil Rathbone-see below). He also appeared in nearly 45 other films such as Treasure Island (1934) and The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936). In WW1, Bruce joined the 10th Service Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry, serving as a Lieutenant. He later joined the Honourable Artillery Company in 1916 and fought at Cambrai in 1917 where he was badly wounded. Bruce’s left leg was hit by no less than eleven bullets and he was confined to a wheelchair for over a year before he was able to walk again.
  • Basil Rathbone (UK)- Stage and film Actor 1920s- 1950s, starred in numerous films, including The Dawn Patrol and The Adventures of Robin Hood and was famous for his portrayals of Sherlock Holmes. During WW1, he served in the British Infantry in the trenches as a private in the London Scottish Regiment and later as a Lieutenant in the Liverpool Scottish regiment. He was decorated for bravery in action. Involved in a number of trench-raids and reconnaissance missions, he once scouted a German trench in broad daylight by disguising himself as a tree!
  • Ronald Colman (UK)- Successful stage and film Actor who was active from 1916 to 1957. He won an Academy Award for best actor in 1947 for the film A Double Life and was nominated for three more films- Bulldog Drummond & Condemned (both in 1930) and Random Harvest (1942). During WW1, Colman served in the London Scottish Regiment and was one of the first of the Territorial Soldiers to see action. He fought at the Battle of Messines in 1914 and on October 31st, he was badly wounded in the leg by shrapnel. He was left with a permanent limp and was invalided out of the army in 1916 whereupon he immediately began his acting career on the London stage.
  • Cedric Hardwicke (UK)- Notable actor of the stage and screen, appeared in numerous Hollywood and British films. He appeared in over 45 movies between 1931 and 1964, the most well-known included The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1949) and The Ten Commandments (1956). During the Great War, he fought on the Western Front as an infantryman in the London Scottish Regiment and he remained in the British contingent of the Army of Occupation in Germany until 1921
  • Herbert Marshall (UK)- Successful stage and film Actor who appeared in nearly 40 movies between 1929 and 1963. His most well-known films included The Painted Veil (1934), The Razor’s Edge (1946), Duel in the Sun (1946) and The Fly (1958). In WW1, along with the other future thespians Rathbone, Rains, Colman and Hardwicke (see above), Marshall served in the London Scottish Regiment. Of all these men, Marshall paid the biggest price for his war service when he was severely wounded in the leg and had to have it amputated, wearing an artificial limb for the rest of his life.
  • Charles Laughton (UK)- Popular and acclaimed film & stage Actor and Director. Appeared in numerous films from the early 1930s through to the 1960s, the most famous of which include Rembrandt (1936), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), Hobson’s Choice (1954) and Spartacus (1960). He won an Academy Award for best actor in 1933 for The Private Life of Henry VIII and was nominated twice more for Mutiny on the Bounty (1936) and Witness for the Prosecution (1958). He directed the acclaimed thriller Night of the Hunter in 1955, which starred Robert Mitchum, and is often cited as one of the best Hollywood films of the post-WW2 era. During WW1, Laughton, who was 15 years-old when the war began, enlisted in 1917 in the 2/1st Battalion of the Huntingdonshire Cyclist Regiment and he later served in the 7th Battalion of the Northamptonshire Regiment. He saw action with both units on the Western Front and was gassed on one occasion but later recovered.
  • Leslie Howard (UK)- Stage and Film Actor 1930-1942. He is best-remembered for appearing in the films The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934), Gone with the Wind (1939) and The 49th Parallel (1941). He was twice nominated for an Oscar for best actor for his performances in Berkeley Square (1933) and Pygmalion (1938). Howard lost his life in 1943 whilst he was returning to Britain after a goodwill/publicity (and intelligence-gathering) tour of Spain when the DC-3 he was travelling on was shot down by the Luftwaffe over the Bay of Biscay. In the Great War, Howard (then still known by his birth name of Leslie Steiner) enlisted in the Northamptonshire Yeomanry as an officer. He saw action on the Western Front and suffered severe shell-shock in 1916 which led him relinquishing his commission in May of that year. After his recovery, he began his acting career in 1917.
  • Stanley Holloway (UK)- Character Actor of the Stage and Screen who appeared in over a hundred films, stage productions and TV programs between 1919 and 1975. He is perhaps most famous for playing Eliza Doolittle’s Father Alfred in the 1964 hit film musical My Fair Lady.In WW1, Holloway served in the Connaught Rangers Infantry Regiment.
  • Vernon Castle (UK)- Professional Dancer, Dance-Teacher & Choreographer of the pre-WW1 era. With his American wife & dancing partner Irene, Castle became a famous and influential Ballroom and Stage Dancer. They ran a highly-successful Dance school in New York and gave private lessons, charging up to $1,000 a session to wealthy clients. The Castles were considered amongst the very-best Ballroom dancers of their day in the UK, France and USA and a book they wrote, Modern Dancing (1914), was a bestseller. They were both major and sought-after celebrities in their time and were trendsetters through Irene’s innovative fashion and hairstyles, their openly liberal views on sexuality and race and their passion for animal rights- decades before it became popular. A Hollywood film was made about their life in 1939 with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the lead-roles. During WW1, Vernon enlisted in the RFC and fought over the Western Front, being credited with two German aircraft destroyed. He was awarded the Croix de Guerre. In a decision perhaps influenced by his pre-war fame, he was transferred to Canada to assist in the training of new pilots in 1917. Promoted to Captain, he was later despatched to the USA to perform the same duty. In February 1918, he was taking off from Benbrook Field in Fort Worth, Texas when he had to bank sharply to avoid another incoming aircraft. His engine stalled and, unable to recover control in time, he crashed. Captain Castle died of his injuries soon afterwards. His grieving wife Irene wrote a moving memoir to him called My Husband the following year and a street in Benbrook is named after him.
  • Eric Blore (UK)- Comic Actor who appeared in over 80 films from the 1920s onwards, often type-cast as the stereotypical English Butler. He appeared in a number of the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers Musicals including The Gay Divorcee (1934) & Top Hat (1935). In the Great War, Blore served in the Artists Rifles where he earned his commission and he later became an officer in the South Wales Borderers.
  • Clive Brook (UK)- Actor, Director & Screenplay Writer of the 1920s-60s whose best-regarded films included Shanghai Express (1932) & On Approval (1943). In WW1, Brook served in the Artists Rifles on the Western Front 1917-18.
  • Arnold Ridley (UK) – Actor and Playwright, best-known for his play ‘The Ghost Train’ and for playing the role of Private Godfrey in the long-running, hugely popular BBC TV comedy Dads Army 1968-1977.In 1914, the 20-year-old Ridley enlisted in the Somerset Light Infantry as a private and saw considerable action on the Western Front. Taking part in the Battle of the Somme in 1916, Ridley was wounded in the left arm and both legs by shrapnel and during a hand-to-hand action, a German soldier struck him on the head with a rifle butt. For the rest of his life, he only had partial use of his left arm, he walked with a limp and his head injuries left him prone to blackouts. Despite this, he managed to re-enlist at the beginning of the Second World War and joined the BEF in France in 1940 but his old injuries proved too difficult for him and he was invalided back home.
  • Jack Warner (UK)- Film & TV actor who appeared in various British films of the 1940s & 50s including ‘The Blue Lamp’, ‘The Lady-Killers’ & ‘Carve Her Name with Pride’. He is best-known for his role as PC Dixon in the long-running, hugely popular British TV series ‘Dixon of Dock Green’ which ran from 1955-1976. In WW1, the 22-year-old Warner served in the RFC in 1917 and flew Sopwith Camels on the Western Front.

Art, Music & Literature
*Robert Graves (UK) - Writer & poet, author of many works, the most famous being the Roman Historical epic I, Claudius & its sequel Claudius the God.Joining up in 1914, he served in the British Infantry as an officer in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and saw active service on the Western front 1915-16. Badly wounded at the Somme, he spent the rest of the war assigned to duties in Britain. He later wrote his famous war memoirs Goodbye to All That.

  • J R R Tolkien (UK) - Writer & author of classic works of Fantasy, the most famous being The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. In WW1, he served in the British Infantry on the Western Front as a Second Lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers. He took part in the battle at Thiepval Ridge on the Somme, 1916. Contracting Trench Fever, he was invalided out of the army in November of that year.
  • W E Johns (UK) - Magazine editor and author of the famous Biggles series of adventure novels for younger readers. When WW1 began, 21-year-old William Earl Johns had already been in the Territorial British Army for over a year and he fought at Gallipoli in 1915 as a private in the King’s Own Royal Regiment (Norfolk Yeomanry). He survived the disastrous campaign un-scathed and his unit was evacuated in December. The following year he transferred to the Machine-Gun-Corps and was stationed on the Macedonian Front in Greece where he contracted Malaria and had to be hospitalised. He joined the RFC in September 1917 and completed his pilot-training at Reading before being posted to No 25 Flying Training School in Norfolk where he worked as a flying instructor to cadets operating Farman MF-11 Shorthorns. Accidental crashes were frequent and Johns wrote off three Shorthorns himself in three successive days, crashing into the sea, onto a beach and then into the back-door of a fellow pilot’s house. On another flight, he became lost in thick fog and nearly flew into a cliff. He had a further two brushes with death whilst practice-firing with live ammunition in flight when the synchronisation-gear on his forward-facing machine-guns failed, causing him to shoot off his own propeller on two separate occasions. Somehow, he survived through all this un-scathed and he was transferred to the Western Front for combat duty in August 1918. He flew DH4s on bombing sorties over German Territory for six weeks before his plane was shot down on September 16th by a Fokker DVII. His observer, Lieutenant A.E Amey, was killed but Johns survived to become a POW which he remained so until the end of the war. He stayed in the RAF until 1927.
  • A.A Milne (UK)- Writer, Playwright, Poet and Novelist, best remembered for his classic Childrens Books-Winnie the Pooh.n WW1, Alan Alexander Milne served with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment on the Western Front but a serious illness forced him into the evidently less strenuous Royal Signals Corps.
  • E.H Shepard (UK)- Artist and Book Illustrator, best-known for his illustrations for the original editions of Winnie the Pooh and Wind in the Willows.In WW1, Shepard served as an officer in the Royal Artillery in 1915 and then worked in Army Intelligence for the remainder of the war, his duties including making sketches of enemy territory. He was awarded the Military Cross in 1918.


Film and theatre
*Maurice Chevalier (France)- Popular and acclaimed actor, singer & entertainer who starred in many hit musicals both on stage and on screen in Europe and the USA, his fame reaching its peak during the 1920s & 30s. In WW1, Chevalier served in the French army and was, in fact, already half-way through his National Service and was stationed near the German border when the war began in 1914. Seeing action in the first bloody weeks of the war, he was wounded in the back by shrapnel and then captured. He spent 2 years in a German POW camp where he passed the time by learning English which greatly assisted him in his later career. He was released in 1916 thanks to the influence of the King of Spain who was a friend of Chevalier’s girlfriend Mistinguett. Chevalier spent the remainder of the war entertaining Allied troops behind the lines.

  • Jean Renoir (France)- Acclaimed Film-Director of French cinema from the 1920s to the early 1960s. His best-known films include “The Rules of the Game” and “The Grand Illusion” When the war broke out in 1914, the 20-year-old Renoir was already serving in the French cavalry as part of his National Service. After seeing action and receiving a wound to the leg (leaving him with a permanent limp), he transferred to the fledgling air-force and served as a Reconnaissance pilot in Escadrille 64.
  • Rene Clair (France)- Film Director of the 1920s-1960s, best-remembered for his films The Imaginary Voyage (1926) & Forever and a Day (1943). During WW1, Clair served as a Volunteer ambulance driver on the Western Front.

Art, Music & Literature
*Georges Braque (France) - Modernist Painter and co-invented the Cubist Abstract style of painting with his friend Picasso in the decade prior to the war.He joined up in 1914 and served in the French army on the Western Front, sustaining a severe head-wound early in the war.

  • Fernand Leger (France)- Modernist Painter & Sculptor who was involved with the Cubist Movement and who painted Cubist and geometrically-Abstract works from the 1900s through to a gentler Figurative style after WW2. In WW1, Leger was mobilised for service in 1914 and served as an Infantryman in the French Army on the Western Front throughout the war. He produced numerous sketches and drawings whilst in the trenches. He was injured by Mustard gas during the Battle of Verdun in September 1916 and had a period of convalescence in Villepinte. He later wrote that he was greatly affected by “…the crudeness, variety, humour and downright perfection of certain men around me…” during his time at the Front and that it did not take him long to “forget the abstract art of 1912-13”. For a time after the war, his paintings took on a hard-edged, more mechanical style.
  • Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (France)- Modernist Sculptor & Painter of the pre-WW1 era who moved to London in 1910 and became involved with the Vorticist Movement of British artists. He produced work heavily influenced by both the Cubist Movement and Primitive Ethnic Art.When WW1 began, Gaudier-Brzeska travelled back to his native France and enlisted in its Army. Serving in the French Infantry, he fought on the Western Front and was decorated for bravery. During fighting at Neuville-St-Vaast on the 5th June 1915, he was killed in action.
  • Raymond Duchamp-Villon (France)- Sculptor who produced and exhibited work in Paris in 1902-1916, producing semi-abstract sculptures influenced by the Cubist Movement. His most famous work is the 1914 bronze- ‘The Large Horse’.In WW1, Villon served in the French Army Medical Corps. Whilst stationed in a barracks in Champagne in late 1916, he contracted Typhoid-fever. He was transferred to an Army Hospital at Cannes where he had a long battle with his illness before he died in October 1918.


Film and theatre
*Friedrich W Murnau (Germany)- Film Director of the German Expressionist Period during the 1920s and who emigrated to the USA in 1926. He directed the acclaimed 1927 silent film ‘Sunrise’ starring George O’Brien (see above) and which was nominated for Best Film at the very first Academy Awards held the same year. It is cited by many critics as one of the best films ever made. He is also well-known for his film Nosferatu (1922), an interpretation of the Vampire Legend, along with The Last Laugh (1925) and Faust (1926). He died in a car-accident in 1931 and only 11 people came to his funeral, including Fritz Lang and Greta Garbo. Murnau trained as a pilot and flew in the German Air-Force during WW1.

  • Max Schreck (Germany)- Stage and Film Actor of the 1920s and early 1930s. Best-remembered for taking the lead-role of the Vampire Count Orlok in F W Murnau’s (see above) interpretation of the Dracula Story in the 1922 silent-film Nosferatu. He died suddenly of heart failure in 1936.During WW1, Schreck served in the German Army on the Western Front 1915-18.

Art, Music & Literature
*Otto Dix (Germany) – Painter of the German Expressionist Movement who achieved great success during the 1920s through to the 1960s. He produced powerful works that commented on the war and life in modern Germany. His large canvas ‘Trench Warfare’ which gruesomely depicted the horrors of the Great War was burned by the Nazis shortly before WW2. By the 1950s, his work mellowed in its emotional impact and the final part of his career was devoted to painting romantic landscapes.The 23-year-old Dix joined up in 1914 and first served in the Field Artillery and was then assigned to a Machine-Gun unit, taking part in the Battle of the Somme in 1916 where he was seriously wounded. He also served on the Eastern Front in 1917 until the Russian surrender and then returned to the West where he took part in the March Offensive in 1918. Dix earned the Iron cross and reached the rank of vice-Sgt Major.


Film and theatre

  • Michael Curtiz (Hungary) - Film Director who helmed over 150 movies between 1912 and 1961 (he emigrated to the USA in 1926). He is best-remembered for his classic Casablanca (1942) along with The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) and White Christmas (1954). At the outbreak of WW1, Curtiz was drafted into the Austro-Hungarian Army in 1914 and he served for a short time in the Artillery but he was sent back into the film-industry in 1915 in order to produce propaganda features. Curtiz was Jewish and several of his relatives, including his sister’s husband and their three children, perished in the Holocaust during WW2.
  • Bela Lugosi (Hungary) – Stage and Screen actor of the 1920s to the 1950s who enjoyed a successful career in Hollywood after emigrating to the USA in 1921. He is best-remembered for starring in ‘Dracula’ (1931) and playing the role of Frankenstein and other villains in numerous films. His last film was the famously bad ‘Plan Nine from Outer Space’ in 1955 which was completed shortly before he died, lonely and poor. His relationship with the eccentric director of that film, Ed Wood, became the subject of the film of the same name directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp in 1994. During WW1, he served as an Infantry Lieutenant in the Austro-Hungarian Army 1914-17 before he starting working as an actor for the Hungarian film industry, appearing in war & propaganda films before the armistice in 1918.

Art, Music & Literature


Art, Music & Literature
*C S Lewis (Ireland) - Writer & author of the classic children’s books- the Chronicles of Narnia. n the Great War, he served in the British Infantry on the Western Front as a Lieutenant in the Somerset Light Infantry. Arriving at the front in November 1916, he fought at Arras the following year and was wounded. He spent the remainder of the war assigned to duties in Britain.


Art, Music & Literature
*Umberto Boccioni (Italy)- Painter & Sculptor who exhibited works in his native country in 1907-1914 and who was one of the most important members of the so-called Futurist Movement which revolutionised the Visual Arts, Music, Architecture and Literature in Italy with a staunchly pro-modern, anti-traditionalist outlook. In WW1, Boccioni was mobilised into the Italian Royal Army Cavalry. During a training exercise near Verona in August 1916, he was thrown from his horse and trampled. Severely injured, he died the following day

  • Gabriele D’annunzio (Italy)- Novelist, Poet, Playwright & Journalist of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He is best-remembered for his 1889 novel The Child of Pleasure and for his poem The Rain in the Pinewood. He was an early member of the Fascist Movement in Italy. During WW1, D’annunzio flew as a fighter pilot in the Royal Italian air-force and he lost an eye in a flying accident. He led a bombing-raid on the Austrian-held harbour of Bakar which received much praise from the Italian public and the press. In August 1918, he led a nine-plane formation on a 700km-round trip to drop propaganda leaflets on Vienna and ended the war as a Squadron-Commander.
  • Giuseppe Ungaretti (Italy)- Poet associated with the Futurist, Symbolist and Dada (Anti-Art) Movements and who published volumes of prose between 1916 and 1969. He is best-remembered for his collection of poetry L’allegria (Joy). He was also associated with the Fascist Movement. He served in the Royal Italian Army during WW1 and was stationed in Northern Italy on the French border. Whilst in the trenches, he wrote his first volume of poetry.


Film and theatre
*Friedrich von Ledebur (Poland)- Stage & Film Actor who appeared in a number of well-known US & British films including Moby Dick (1956), The Blue Max (1966) and Slaughterhouse Five (1974). Von Ledebur was only 16 years-old when he enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian Army in 1916 and he became an officer in the Austrian Cavalry 1917-18.


Film and theatre
*John Laurie (Scotland)- Actor best-remembered for playing the role of Private Fraser in the BBC hit-comedy series Dads Army 1968-1977 but who also appeared in numerous British film and stage productions in the 1920s-1970s including ‘The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp’ (1945) and ‘The Way Ahead’ (1944). During WW1, Laurie served in the British Army on the Western Front 1917-18.

Art, Music & Literature
*William Lamb (Scotland)- Painter, Sculptor & Printmaker of the 1920s-1950s. He is best-known for his commissioned portraits of the Duchess of York and her two daughters in 1932. During WW1, Lamb served in the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders on the Western Front. He was twice wounded in action, including a serious injury to his right hand therefore he later taught himself to paint and draw with his left.

  • Hugh MacDiarmid (Scotland)- Pen-Name of Writer, Left-wing Politician, Poet & Journalist who wrote works in both English and Scottish Gaelic. Best-known for his long-poem- A Drunk Man looks at his Thistle (1926). He was also a Communist and staunch Scots-Nationalist who once listed ‘Anglophobe’ as one of his hobbies! During WW1, MacDiarmid (whose real name was Christopher Grieve) served in the Royal Army Medical Corps
  • Archibald J Cronin (Scotland)- Doctor, Novelist, Playwright and Social Commentator. A practising Doctor who also wrote, he is best-remembered for his novels The Stars Look Down (1935), The Green Years (1944), The Spanish Gardener (1950) & The Judas Tree (1961). He was a strong critic of the British Medical system and his ideas on a more equitable system were a major influence on the formation of the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK after WW2. During the Great War, Cronin worked as a Surgeon in the Royal Navy.