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First World War Waiting for a conflict in a neutral land

Switzerland mobilised its troops in August 1914 to protect its neutrality. During the First World War, soldiers kept guard at the country's borders. The Federal Archives has 5,000 photos providing a glimpse of life on active duty.

Troop numbers varied depending on the potential threats over the border. In August 1914, there were around 220,000 soldiers called up, but only 12,500 by the end of the war. Most men spent on average 500 days serving. The Swiss army didn't take part in any fighting, but approximately 3,000 men died because of accidents or illness, including 1,800 during the infamous Spanish flu epidemic in 1918.

One hundred years after the conflict began, the Federal Archives has brought out 5,000 photos illustrating life during the mobilisation. This collection provides a complete overview of the soldiers' activities, including marching, shooting, cycling patrols, trench digging, cleaning weapons and so forth.

(Photos: Swiss Federal Archives; photo editing: Christoph Balsiger,; text: Olivier Pauchard,

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