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The First World War

2014 marks the centenary of the outbreak of the First World


War. At the beginning of the 20th Century the map of Europe
was very different to how it is today. It was not an era of
independent countries, but rather competing imperial empires.
There had been plenty of tension and wars between them far
away in their colonies, but 1914 their imperial interests began to
be fought over on the central European continent itself.
There are many different reasons proposed as causes for the war,
but the most well know is that of the assassination of Archduke
Franz Ferdinand on 28th June 1914. He was the heir to the
throne of the Austro Hungarian Empire. There were complex
alliances which led to a domino effect with each major power being drawn into the conflict.
Britain had a treaty to defend the sovereignty of Belgium. When Germany
invaded France through Belgian territory Britain was obliged to declare
war on them. In order to encourage young British men to fight the war, the
newspapers were full of anti German propaganda, saying that Germany
were engaging in atrocities in Belgium. These allegations were
completely false, but they help to remind us how the media can
manipulate national hatred during times of war.
The war soon became an inter imperialist
slaughter in which millions of men on
both sides needlessly went to their
deaths, and the entire young generation
was tragically lost.
One of the worst events of the war was the battle of the Somme.
Between 1st June and 18th November 1916 over a million men were
killed or injured. It was one of the bloodiest moments in human history.
The biggest changes with the First World War were the introduction of
modern weaponry and the subsequent shift in public attitudes towards
war. War had always been considered an honorable thing, with poets
glorifying the idea of dying nobly for ones country. Previous wars had
been fought face to face but now, with both sides having newly
developed machine guns, there was little glory to be had. Both sides dug
trenches and lived in
miserable conditions. The only strategy that the
commanders could come up with was to send their
men over the top to approach the enemys trenches.
The area between the trenches was called no mans
land and obviously the troops did not stand a chance.
they were instantly slaughtered by machine gun fire.
This led to a stalemate situation with thousands dying
for no advantage or advance whatsoever.
One of the most dangerous moments for the
commanders was when both the German and British
troops decided to spend Christmas day 1914 together

out in no mans land. It is thought that they even played a football match!
The generals were rightly worried as they didnt want their men to realise
that they had more in common with the soldiers of the other side than
with their own leaders. This truce with the enemy was quickly stopped by
those in command on both sides.
The war ended on 11th November 1918 and that day has since then been
known as armistice day. On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the
eleventh month we pause to
reflect and remember those
who died.
The end of the war did not end all of the problems however. At
the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 Britain and France treated
Germany arrogantly and forced them to accept the full blame
for causing the war. this led to a lot of resentment and eventually
to the renewal of hostilities with the Second World War just over
twenty years later.
Wilfred Owen: Dulce et Decorum est.
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares(2) we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest(3) began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots(4)
Of tired, outstripped(5) Five-Nines(6) that dropped behind.
Gas!(7) Gas! Quick, boys! An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets(8) just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime(9) . . .
Dim, through the misty panes(10) and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering,(11) choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud(12)
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest(13)
To children ardent(14) for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.(15)
Wilfred Owen
Thought to have been written between 8 October 1917 and March, 1918