The 4 August 2014 marked the 100 year anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, aka World War I or The Great War for Civilisation. A hundred years might seem like a very long time ago, but it isn't really. Your great-great grandparents were around then, and they would have lived through, and maybe even taken part in, this conflict.
Lots of history books have been written on exactly this subject. But it all boils down to the fact that Europe had split into two large families of countries. The Allies — the British Empire, France, Belgium, Russia and later, the USA — were in one family. And the Central Powers of Germany, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey were in the other. On 4 August 1914, Germany invaded Belgium, and so, standing by its promise to stick up for Belgium, Britain declared war on Germany. The world was at war...
When the First World War began that summer, most people thought it would be over by Christmas. Many believed that Britain was so powerful it could win very quickly. In fact, the First World War lasted four terrible years, not four months.
By the winter of 1915, the opposing sides had both dug long ditches called trenches which faced each other, in some places just 30m apart! These lines of narrow trenches stretched from the Belgian coast to Switzerland, and were known as the Western Front. Over five million British soldiers spent time living in these muddy, miserable ditches, taking it in turns to be on the Front Line — the trench closest to the enemy.
Day-to-day life there was smelly and grim. There were millions of giant rats, overflowing latrines (loos) and terrible lice infestations. Not to mention the dead bodies. Every so often, soldiers on the Front Line would be instructed to leave their trench and venture into dangerous No Man’s Land (the area between the sides) to try to push back the enemy.
This war was very different from conflicts of the past. For the first time, powerful new weapons and vehicles were used - at sea, on land and in the air - resulting in many people being killed or wounded. In Britain, you could sometimes hear what sounded like thunder coming across the English Channel from Europe. In fact, it was the huge boom of big guns, called artillery, being fired on the Western Front. 75% of all men who died in the First World War were killed by artillery.
The largest battle of the First World War - the Battle of the Somme - is known as one of the bloodiest battles in history. It was fought by the French and British against the Germans on both sides of the River Somme in France, and lasted for more than five months. Over a million men were killed or wounded, and it was the first time that a tank was used in combat.
On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the First World War officially ended when an agreement (known as an armistice) was signed by Germany and the Allies. This date is known as Armistice Day, and is still commemorated each year when people wear paper poppies to remember those who fought and died in conflicts around the world - the pretty red flowers were the only things that grew on the bloody battlefields of Western Europe.
Sadly, by the time the First World War was over, more than 18 million people had been killed worldwide. It was hoped it would be the war to end all wars. But this wasn’t to be the case. Just 21 years later, the Second World War broke out.