It is generally estimated – I have taken my figures from that unique organ of record the Wikipedia website – that the total number of deaths caused by the First World War exceeds 15 million. Of this number, some 9 million were military personnel, and over 2 million of the non-combatant deaths came from disease, not least the infamous and widespread outbreak of Spanish influenza after the conflict had officially ended.
In addition, during its course approximately another 20 million people were wounded.
As regards the United Kingdom, it is estimated that an approximate total of 996,000 died during WW1, of which 887,000 were military servicemen.
The comparable figures for France were 1,700,000 and 1,400,000.
For Germany and its empire, 2,500,000 and 2,100,000.
For Austria-Hungary, 1,500,000 and 1,100,000.
For the Russian empire, 3,750,000 and 2,250,000.
That’s a lot of people, by any yardstick.
However, according to Antoine Prost, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Paris, these casualty figures are serious under-estimates.
In a contribution to a three-part collection of essays issued by The Cambridge History of The First World War this week – as reported in The Times yesterday – Prost apparently argues that a combination of error, confusion and a natural inclination to give conservative estimates on the part of governments has meant that the hitherto accepted total loss figures for military personnel undershoot the actuality by between 500,000 and a million.
That’s even more people.
And a sobering thought.