Centenary of the First World War

1. Knowledge about the global nature of the conflict and its legacy varies greatly from country to country.

2. Perceptions of the UK around the world are still influenced by Britain’s role in the First World War.

3. The Christmas truce of 1914 briefly demonstrated the power of people to people relations to transcend conflict.

Knowledge about the global nature of the First World War is limited

  • The First World War was a truly global conflict; it affected all parts of the world.
  • The most common image of the First World War across many countries is quite rightly the trenches on the Western Front.
  • But the war did not take place only in Europe. Fighting, suffering and sacrifice took place in many countries around the world.
  • Commonwealth countries made a huge contribution of money, resources, and military and auxiliary personnel (sustaining heavy casualties) to Britain’s war effort.
  • The First World War profoundly reshaped the Middle East and had a lasting impact on international relations.
  • In many countries, the First World War and its aftermath led to profound developments of national transformation and the development of strong independence movements.
  • Research by the British Council has shown that knowledge about the global nature and legacy of the conflict is limited in many countries.

 

Perceptions of the UK around the world are still influenced by Britain’s role in the First World War and its aftermath

  • In some countries, Britain’s role in the First World War and its aftermath still affects people’s opinion of the UK today.
  • Frequently, views are positive, but there are also significant numbers in many countries whose views of the UK today are affected negatively.
  • Understanding the views of people from other countries can be helpful and important for those visiting other countries for business or leisure. This will help them build relationships and trust with others around the world.

 

The Christmas truce of 1914 briefly demonstrated the power of people-to-people relations

  • The Christmas truce of 1914 is a remarkable episode from the First World War and is well-remembered in the UK in particular. 
  • It involved a spontaneous ceasefire, singing, mingling, and a football match between German and British soldiers. 
  • It did not change the course of the war, but has since been taken to demonstrate the power – even in the most difficult circumstances – of people to people contact: an example that can inspire young people today.

 

Facts

  • 9.5 million combatants were killed and a further 20 million wounded. There were at least 6.5 million civilian deaths. 
  • While the First World War officially ended in 1919 (some people take the armistice of 1918 to be the official end), in many parts of the world fighting continued in follow-on conflicts, and the international legacy of its peace treaties led to lasting conflict and tension in many parts of the world which in some cases persists to this day. 
  • However, the war also led to the idea that global governance could be provided through international institutions and ultimately paved the way for the formation of the UN after the Second World War. 
  • The British Council’s report, Remember The World As Well As The War, shows that knowledge of the conflict - which began over 100 years ago - is largely limited to the fighting on the Western Front. In the UK, less than half of the 1,081 people questioned were aware that North America (38%) and the Middle East (34%) played a part in the war, and less than a quarter were aware that Africa (21%) and Asia (22%) were involved. 
  • In terms of impact and legacy, while 62% of people in the UK are aware of the war’s connection to the rise of the Nazis in Germany, well under half are aware of its link with the rise of Communism in Russia (37%). Less than a third associate the war with the fall of the Ottoman Empire (32%) or the creation of the United Nations (27%). Only 11% were aware of the war’s connection with the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. 
  • 45% of people questioned in India and 28% in France and Russia say the UK’s role in the war has a positive effect on how they view the UK today. However, 34% in Turkey and 22% in Egypt say it has a negative effect. 
  • Almost three quarters of people (72%) across the seven countries surveyed believe their country is still affected by the consequences of the war. 
  • Two products of the First World War are common reasons for distrust of the UK in the Middle East: The Sykes-Picot Agreement (1916), which paved the way for British and French control of large parts of the region; and the Balfour Declaration (1917), which led to the creation of the state of Israel and the resulting ongoing conflict with the Palestinians. 
  • Gandhi’s first civil disobedience campaign against British authority in 1919 stemmed from the unrealised hope that India’s contribution to the First World War of around 1.5 million men would be honoured with a transition to self-government. 
  • More than one million African auxiliary personnel were – sometimes forcibly – deployed in the war. About 100,000 died. 
  • The War That Changed the World was a series of live events run by the British Council and BBC World Service. Each event, broadcast on the radio, was recorded in a different country on a different theme, with an audience of local people and a panel of historians from that country. The project sought to capture a range of different international viewpoints of the First World War and their ongoing significance and impact on the world now. 
  • Football Remembers was run in partnership with the Premier League, the Football Association including their counterparts in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, and the Football League. The Football Remembers Education Pack was sent to every school in the UK and highlighted the significance of the Christmas truce and its relevance to events in the world today. Subsequently, schools and youth networks were invited to join the mass participation football event in December 2014, which coincided with the anniversary of the Christmas truce of 1914. Participants were encouraged to organise football matches at every level of the game and high public figures, such as HRM The Duke of Cambridge, Theo Walcott and Eden Hazard, showed their support publicly.