The First World War arguably represents the largest seismic shift of the twentieth century both culturally, politically, geographically and technologically. 100 years on and its ramifications are still being felt in all these areas. War dead estimates run between 10-16 million but the true human cost is unknown, it includes civilians and those who died post-war of injuries or illness. Unlike previous conflicts the loss of life and its associated impact was felt globally: Madagascar suffered 2,500 military deaths; Zambia suffered 3,000 military deaths; India suffered 74,187 military deaths; Austria suffered 25,000 civilian deaths; and Russia suffered 1,500,000 civilian deaths.*

The necessity of war brought with it huge advances in all sectors of engineering: from the development of the tank to the creation of communication lines to the front. Engineering also contributed on the home front: from the development of artificial limbs to manufacturing munitions. The three main engineering institutions all sent men to the front and had members working on new technologies and behind the scenes; mechanical, civil and electrical engineers all applied their expertise to the war effort. Our timeline gives an overview of major events of the conflict.

British tank factory, 1917
Dazzle outline for ‘24’ Class ship
Women workers at the National Shell Filling Factory, Chilwell


Advancements in battlefield and airborne technologies were crucial to national defence. At land, sea and in the air engineers worked to develop new, and improve existing, methods of defence. Crucial to this was the development of weaponry.


From tunnelling to communication lines, engineers developed methods to provide infrastructure to the battlefield. Infrastructure aided telecommunications and allowed for the movement of troops and weaponry.

Home Front

The three largest engineering Institutions worked at home to aid the war effort. Women entered factories and engineering workplaces to create items required for the War. Engineers worked to enhance the quality of life for returning soldiers.


*Estimates for war dead, military and civilian, vary wildly. Our civilian figures include non-direct deaths eg due to famine.

Images: Q 48212 British tank factory, 1917; Q 30040 Women workers at the National Shell Filling Factory, Chilwell; IWM DAZ 45 Dazzle outline for ‘24’ Class ship Imperial War Museum 1914 Partnership.