Martin Davidson looking straight at the camera
Martin Davidson looking straight at the camera ©

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An interview with Chief Executive Martin Davidson, explaining why and how the British Council is marking the First World War Centenary.

Why is the British Council marking the First World War Centenary?

The First World War was a truly global conflict; the world came together for destruction. 9.5 million combatants died, 20 million were wounded.  There were at least 6.5 million civilian deaths.  

As the UK’s leading cultural relations organisation, supporting understanding of the global nature of the conflict and its legacy is central to the relationship between the UK and other countries.

The First World War is often overshadowed by the Second.  But it was the First World War which ended three empires, triggered the Russian revolution, and created the complex dynamics of power in the Middle East. World War One led to the first efforts to establish global governance.  It is the crucible of international politics today.

What is the British Council doing for the Centenary?

We are putting together a wide and varied programme of activities for audiences in the UK and around the world.

One thing we have already done is published our report, Remember the World as well as the War. In our research, we surveyed thousands of people in seven countries to explore their understanding of the First World War.

I was interested to discover that perceptions of the UK around the world today are still influenced by Britain’s role in the First World War.  For instance, about one in three of respondents to our survey in Turkey stated that the UK’s role in the conflict had a broadly negative effect on their views of it today. 

Understanding the reasons for perceptions of the UK is at the heart of our work here at the British Council.

What are you doing reach a wider audience?

We recognise that the First World War means very different things in different regions. Russia, for example, remembers the revolution.

Developing the theme of global understanding of the war, we are working in partnership with the BBC to stimulate debate and discussion. Together, we are holding ten international events which will be broadcast on the BBC World Service and on BBC Radio 3: The War That Changed The World.

Will young people be involved in the British Council’s centenary work?

Absolutely, young people and their understanding are crucial. They are the future.

We have also joined forces with the Premier League, The Football Association and the Football League to mark the centenary of football being played in No Man’s Land during the Christmas Truce in 1914, Football Remembers. This spontaneous and informal moment of humanity from history is one of the greatest surprises of this bitter and destructive war.  We will be harnessing the power of football to inspire young people to reflect and remember with an education pack as well as a series of national commemoration events. 

I am delighted that whenever we work with schools we encourage intercultural exchange. The education pack is filled with suggestions for international projects and we will be reaching out through our networks of school partnerships in the Connecting Classrooms programme.  

HRH the Duke of Cambridge says, “As President of the Football Association, it gives me great pleasure to be supporting the Football Remembers project.  

The British Council, together with The F.A., Premier League and Football League have put together a tremendous resource for use in the classroom and at home. It promises to be a powerful way to engage and educate young people about such an important moment in our history.”

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