By Anne Bostanci

11 February 2014 - 08:47

1.4-1.5 million men from India served for Britain in the war. Photo of wounded Indian soldiers in a French village courtesy of Imperial War Museum.
1.4-1.5 million men from India served for Britain in the war. ©

Photo of wounded Indian soldiers in a French village courtesy of Imperial War Museum.

The First World War started 100 years ago and forever changed the world, not just Europe. The British Council's Anne Bostanci, co-author of the report Remember the World as well as the War, gives us a glimpse into the war's global scale and legacy.

The First World War wasn’t only about what happened on the Western Front, it was much bigger than that.

It is important to remember the suffering and loss in France and Flanders. But we must not forget that the war was global in extent, contributions, consequences and legacy. Fighting took place from the waters of the South Pacific to the deserts of Arabia, people from Mozambique to the Falkland Islands were affected, soldiers and labourers from China to the Punjab found themselves embroiled in conflict across the globe.

Little-known facts about the global scale of the war

The British Council’s new report, Remember the World as well as the War, hopes to help people in the UK and around the world remember this. It highlights historical events and little-known facts about the war and its consequences, such as:

  1. 1.4-1.5 million men from India served for Britain in France, East Africa, Mesopotamia and Egypt.
  2. More than one million African auxiliary personnel were employed – sometimes forcibly. About 100,000 died.
  3. Together with France, Austria-Hungary had the most casualties as a proportion of troops mobilised. In absolute terms, Russia had the most casualties, followed by Germany.
  4. New Zealand had an even larger proportion of men under arms than Britain.
  5. 97 per cent of Australian-produced meat was consumed in Britain during the war and India’s jute supply was turned into sandbags.
  6. Many recent conflicts, e.g., between Israel and the Palestinians, in Yugoslavia and Syria, have some link to the events of the First World War.
  7. The First World War led to the development of many of the major organisations and institutions, such as the UN, that seek to secure global peace and security today.

How the world feels about the war and the UK's role

International survey data from Egypt, France, Germany, India, Turkey, Russia and the UK shows that people still feel affected by the events of the First World War: 72 per cent of respondents across the seven countries stated this. In the UK, only six per cent of respondents felt that the First World War did not have any impact on the country today.

Despite a lack of UK knowledge about the war’s global scale, the survey data also reveals the extent to which it still influences overseas views of the UK. 45 per cent of people questioned in India and 28 per cent in France and Russia say the UK’s role in the war has had a positive effect on how they view the UK today. However, 34 per cent in Turkey and 22 per cent in Egypt say it has had a negative effect.

Looking beyond perceptions of the UK, 20 per cent of survey respondents across the seven countries feel that their country’s role in the First World War is often misrepresented and misinterpreted in global history.

We think the centenary is an opportunity to understand the global reach and legacy of the war and help everyone understand and navigate the many different reasons people from other countries see the UK as they do.

If you are a teacher, you can use our Schools Online classroom resources on the First World War to help your students learn about armsitice and peace. 

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