The Great War was the first global war in human history. It started in Europe on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918.
The war effort affected the daily lives of everyone living in Britain. It was a total war with a ‘home front’ as well as many military ‘battle fronts’. More than 70 million soldiers, sailors and airmen were ‘mobilised’ (or took part) in the Great War. Over 9 million combatants and 7 million civilians died as a result of the war (including the victims of a number of genocides). One reason for the high number of casualties was the belligerent’s (the waring countries) technology and industrial sophistication. This was because the Great War was the first major war fought after the Industrial Revolution. High casualties were also caused by the stalemate caused by ‘trench warfare’. This was a grueling type of warfare that led to great suffering for the soldiers involved.
As well as being the deadliest war in history, it also paved the way for major political changes. These included revolutions in both Germany and Russia. Other countries including India wanted political independence as a result of their contributions to winning the war. The war was fought between The Allies United Kingdom/British Empire, France, Belgium Italy, Russia and the USA) versus The Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey.
As time went by the enormous social, economic, political and military pressures caused by the Great War meant that these alliances changed. More nations entered the war: First Italy then later Japan and the United States joined the Allies. Meanwhile the Ottoman Empire (based on modern day Turkey) and Bulgaria joined the Central Powers. In 1918, Russia made a separate peace, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, with Germany following the communist revolution.
The trigger for the war was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria who was heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, by the Yugoslavian Nationalist Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914. This set off a diplomatic crisis which was made worse by the entangled international alliances that had been formed over the previous decades. Within weeks, the major powers were at war and the conflict soon spread around the world with fighting on several continents.
The waring European powers relied on their Empires to support the war effort in many different ways. For example, Great Britain received steadfast support throughout the war from its ‘Dominions’ of Australia, Canada and New Zealand. British India (modern day India and Pakistan) also provided large numbers of soldiers and immense quantiles of other valuable wartime supplies. France and Belgium both received troops and supplies from the countries in their African Empires including Algeria and the Congo.
Britain was drawn into the Great War when Germany invaded the ‘neutral’ countries of Belgium and Luxembourg as an easier way of attacking France.
The Great War lasted for over 4½ years. There were victories and defeats on both sides. The fighting between Russia and Germany caused so much suffering to the Russian people that in 1917 a revolution took place that bought the world’s first communist government to power. The new ‘Bolshevik’ Russian government made peace with Germany.
After the United States of America joined the war on the Allied side, the number of soldiers and other resources available to fight Germany and the Central Powers increased greatly. Also the Allies had successfully blockaded Germany (stopped supplies getting there by land or sea). This meant that by 1918 Germany was running out of food and materials to carry on fighting the war. There was extensive starvation amongst the civilian populations of German, Austria and Hungary. Also there was a serious shortage of medicine to treat injured soldiers. By October 1918 these shortages were producing riots and mutinies.