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Newspapers in Education: The Great War, week one

Hard time: a solider keeps watch on ‘No Man’s Land’
Hard time: a solider keeps watch on ‘No Man’s Land’

This article has been specially written for thousands of pupils across Northern Ireland who are doing the Belfast Telegraph cross-curricular project on the First World War, which took place between 1914 and 1918. Over the next six weeks we will focus on how it started and how it ended, assess what it was like for those involved and profile key figures from the conflict.

1914: Europe is at war

The First World War started in 1914 and finished in 1918. That means it is now 100 years since it ended.

It is known as the Great War because it affected people all over the world and was the biggest war anyone had ever known.

The First World War was fought between two extremely powerful groups.

On one side was the Triple Alliance consisting of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy, and on the other was the Triple Entente - the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, France and Russia.

'Entente' meant friendship and understanding.

Before 1914, these two groups had agreed to work together and help each other, so when war broke out, parts of Europe were already divided into two sides. There were a number of key events and key dates that led to the First World War

June 28, 1914:

Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, was killed while he was visiting Sarajevo in Bosnia. He was assassinated by a Serbian person who believed that Serbia should control Bosnia instead of Austria.

Following the death of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Austria-Hungary threatened war on Serbia, with Germany's support. Russia sided with the Serbians and, through their alliance with France, called on the French to do the same.

July 28, 1914:

Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia with the backing of Germany.

August 1, 1914:

Things escalated when Germany declared war on Russia.

 August 3, 1914:

The Germans then declared war on France.

August 4, 1914:

German troops marched towards France, going through Belgium, a neutral country. Britain demanded that the Germans withdraw from Belgium. When they refused, Britain declared war on Germany.

August 23, 1914:

Japan had an alliance with Great Britain, and decided to declare war on Germany.

October 29, 1914:

Turkey entered the war and helped the German naval bombardment of Russia. While these were all key events, other factors also contributed to the start of this war.

For instance, imperialism, which is when a country takes over new lands or countries and makes them subject to their rule.

The amount of lands 'owned' by Britain and France increased the rivalry with Germany.

Over 100 years ago the growing divide between certain nations in Europe and a strong sense of nationalism led to an arms race between the main countries, and this militarism increased tensions and suspicions.

These factors set the stage for a bitter conflict that four years later would see over 16 million people dead and over 20 million wounded.

Wartime Profile

Kaiser Wilhelm II

Many people played significant roles at the beginning, during and end of the First World War.

We will consider six of them in the coming weeks, starting with Kaiser Wilhelm II, the last German Emperor (Kaiser) and King of Prussia.

Wilhelm II was born on January 27, 1859, in Berlin. He was the eldest child of Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia and Victoria, the daughter of Queen Victoria.

He was born with a withered arm, which he always tried to conceal.

After becoming Emperor in 1888, Wilhelm II was keen to prove himself as a successful leader.

He was determined to strengthen Germany's armed forces and wanted to make the navy as strong as Britain's.

Those actions did not go down well with Great Britain.

When the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was killed in 1914 by a Serbian, Wilhelm encouraged the Austrians to take a hard line against Serbia, effectively writing them a blank cheque for German support in the event of war.

This triggered a chain of events, with Russia, France and Britain entering the First World War against Germany and Austria-Hungary.

Once the war had started, Wilhelm found himself excluded from military decisions, leading to him being an ineffective wartime leader. He abdicated in November 1918 and fled to exile in the Netherlands.

He had hopes of becoming an influential figure in Germany again, but that did not happen and he died on June 4, 1941, at the age of 82.

Sidney Lewis: youngest British soldier in WWI

Did you know that the youngest authenticated British soldier in the First World War was only 12 years old?

He was called Sidney Lewis and, like many young boys at the time, he lied about his age in order to become a soldier.

The legal age to serve in the army was 18, but during the war tens of thousands of young boys joined before they reached that age.

Sidney fought at the Battle of the Somme in 1916, but he was later ordered to go home after his mother sent his birth certificate to the War Office and demanded his return. Lewis was awarded the Victory Medal and the British War Medal.

The youngest known soldier to fight in the First World War was Momcilo Gavric, who was accepted into his unit in the Serbian army at the age of seven and promoted to the rank of corporal at the age of eight.

At the beginning of the war, Austro-Hungarian soldiers killed his family. He decided to go and find the 6th Artillery Division of the Serbian army and, after hearing his story, the army major accepted him into his unit.

At the age of eight, after the Battle of Cer, he was promoted to the rank of corporal by the commander of his unit, and given a military uniform.

Later he was promoted to Lance Sergeant because of his bravery.

He died in Belgrade in 1993, aged 86. The Serbian government in 2015 put up a monument dedicated to him. There are also memorials to him in Corfu.

Belfast Telegraph


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