Over by Christmas they said! — Marking the Centenary of the First World War

As one of the deadliest conflicts in the history of humanity, the First World War leaves an almighty scar on the landscape of Great Britain and indeed many other parts of the world. With plans this Sunday the 11th November to mark the centenary of the First World War (1914–1918), the scars of the Great War remain deep within the fabric of Britain. Yet as 100 years have passed, the memory of this unprecedented event is becoming ever-diluted in minds of many younger generations. As the First World War began, the vast public believed that the conflict would be over by Christmas 1914. Britain along with other nations expected a rapid and decisive victory, so what happened? and did anything ‘great’ really come out of the Great War in which our Grandfathers and Great Grandfathers fought in that day, so that we could have our tomorrow.

Many factors contributed to the prolonged nature of the Great War, not least the aims and ambitions of the alliance systems. The Triple Entente of Britain, France and Russia were faced with the Central powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary, however troops from other parts of the British Empire ensured the vast development of the war on a global scale. What may have appeared as a contained series of conflicts within the summer of 1914 soon suffered complications as other countries such as Japan, the Ottoman Empire and the USA joined what was to become the Great War on a global scale.

For many nations, war was an opportunity to settle ongoing matters once and for all, and many Europeans actually entered the war enthusiastically. Britain, France, Germany and even the Czech’s dreamed of a way to gain victory in Europe. Many countries had aims to expand their territory, such as Russia who sought expansion at the expense of countries such as Germany, whilst others allied with nations that were assumed to be victorious. Serbia at this time, had ambitions to become centred within a powerful Slav state in the Balkans, which drove Austria-Hungary to secure itself against them.

Bismarck’s main priority was essentially to bring peace to Germany with her neighbouring countries, by forming an alliance with Russia and Austro-Hungary and protecting its borders through the territory of Belgium and Poland. France’s aims were to recover Alsace-Lorraine lost to Germany in 1871, and if they could secure the bank of the Rhine and occupy the Saar coalfield it would undoubtedly prevent further aggression. The ambitious war aims of each nation not only prevented the likelihood of a rapid end to the war but the war itself could be argued as a platform which these nations desired, making the Great War inevitable while those expansionist aims existed.

Lack of effective communication systems also made it increasingly difficult to direct armies and initiate a response or attack and there were huge criticisms over the management of troops; risking men’s lives unnecessarily and highlighting bad coordination between troops which was too slow to develop. The war was prolonged also due to the reliance on industry and technology which was clearly unbalanced between the Entente and the Central Powers and French high command failed to identify Germany’s military strength causing the British Expeditionary Force to be faced with an army far greater than themselves.

As well as the logistical difficulties and the increasing demands of the war prolonging the conflict, propaganda contributed heavily to the ongoing war. Media influences from newspapers, advertising and even cinema all strengthened support for the war on land as well as on the battlefield. Stories of brutality and other allegations of the Central Powers created a universal demonization of the enemy, spurring armies to continue in the fight for victory. Conversely media encouraged men to join the war effort, as proud contributors of the war. Young men were enlisted with great enthusiasm with expectations of a short conflict that would see them home for Christmas, however there seemed to be a prevailing sense of endlessness of the war.

The world prior to the Great War was a place of relative peace as prosperity and economic progress were at the forefront of society. Indeed nobody had prepared for such a great war, with justification often clashing across borders until the point at which perhaps the initial concerns of war were lost; misguided and unjustified.

A war which was never expected to last beyond Christmas of 1914 was catastrophic, and regardless of the First World War’s final denouement, societies across the globe had completely changed. For Britain her ideology of life was transformed by a conflict that created active citizens and brought the state and the people together for the first time; A war which could be argued as a necessity for progress.