Centenary of the Outbreak of The First World War

It seems extraordinary to us now that the assassination of an unpopular Archduke in a relatively obscure country could have started the most significant war the world had ever known. A hundred years ago, on the 28th June 1914, a group of six teenage Serb terrorists set out to kill Archduke Franz Ferdinand during his visit to Sarajevo. They were protesting about the annexation of Bosnia by the Austro-Hungarian Empire to which the Archduke was heir.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, June 1914: IWM First World War (via Culture Grid)© IWM (Q 91848)

Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, June 1914: IWM First World War (via Culture Grid) © IWM (Q 91848)

The image above shows the Archduke departing from the Town Hall with his wife, Sophie. A short time later they would be shot dead by the 19 year old Gavrilo Princip. This act upset the balance of power between the two major alliances in Europe and set in train a series of  events, known as the July Crisis which would lead  to the outbreak of war a few weeks later. Princip was later to say that if he had known the final outcome of the murder he would never have proceeded.

Yugoslavia Special Report – Historical Look at the Balkan Crisis: Visnews: compliation from 28/6/1914 onwards

For an overview of why the Balkans region has been a focus of unrest for centuries, click on the Reuters film above which explains how the state of Yugoslavia was born in 1918.

Meanwhile Britain was undergoing social change which threatened the old order of aristocratic landowners. Trade unions were forming to protect workers’ rights and there had been several years of industrial strife. These factors had given Germany the opportunity to win more trade and British industry was losing out. Click on the image below to watch a cartoon which shows the British workman fighting back. This may have been produced as propaganda at the beginning of the war.

Animated cartoon of German Industrialist V British Workman: Gaumont Graphic c. 1914

Animated cartoon of German Industrialist V British Workman: Gaumont Graphic c. 1914

On 23rd July 1914, King George V and Edward, the 20 year old Prince of Wales spent time inspecting the the newly formed Grand Fleet. This was clearly a sign that tensions were high but it was unlikely any of the British public would have been aware war was so imminent and at that point the British Cabinet were doing all they could to ensure neutrality. Unfortunately the countdown to war had already started.

King George Visits Grand Fleet

King George Visits Grand Fleet: Gaumont Graphic Newsreel: 23-07-1914

Observers in the North  East of Scotland would have noticed something was afoot: A local photographer off the coast of Wick captured this image of battleships which were a presence in the area during WW1. It’s probable these ships would subsequently be involved in the Battle of Jutland in 1916 when the Grand Fleet fought the German  Navy’s High Seas Fleet, resulting in great loss of life.

 A local photographer off the coast of Wick captured this image of battleships which were a presence in the area during WW1 Home fleet, Wick Bay: The North Highland College (Johnston Collection)  The Wick Society c.1915

Home fleet, Wick Bay: The North Highland College (Johnston Collection) The Wick Society c.1915

On the 4th August 1914 Britain finally declared war on Germany following the German invasion of Belgium. The Kaiser had feared being caught in a pincer movement between France and Russia and needed Belgium to give him safe passage in order that he could attack France. Belgium refused and the German troops flooded in despite the Kaiser’s attempts to call them back at the last moment.

The following propaganda cartoon was made in 1918 to show Britain and the Empire’s contribution to the war effort. It portrays the Kaiser’s warmongering activities in a comical way.

Kaiser Wilhelm prepares to invade Belgium ImperialWar Museum (films) 1918

Kaiser Wilhelm keeps an eye on Britain as he prepares to invade Belgium: IWM (films) 1918

In early August 1914  many thousands of men came forward to enlist and fight for their country. Everyone was told the war would be over by Christmas and volunteers signed up with no expectation of a protracted conflict. Click on the clip below to watch crowds of volunteers queuing to enlist outside the War Office.

Recruiting in August 1914: Gaumont Graphic Newsreel : 10-08-1914

Recruitment took place across the country and was boosted by the numbers of unemployed men who were looking for a wage. After some intial training these inexperienced troops were despatched to face an uncertain future on the Western Front.

Volunteers drilling in the courtyard of Burlington House: IWM (images) 1914-1918

Volunteers drilling in the courtyard of Burlington House:
IWM (images) 1914-1918


No one had wanted war and yet ultimately it had seemed impossible to avoid. All  the nations who took part were hugely fearful for the future. David Grey, Britain’s Foreign Secretary famously expressed his despair at the time:

The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.

Europe would have changed irrevocably by the time the First World War finally ended and made a lasting impact on the lives of millions of people; whether they were casualties or survivors of this terrifying conflict.

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Digital Content for the First World War on JISC MediaHub

In 2014 we will be commemorating the centenary of the First World War. This event will  generate new interest in historic material relating to such a significant part of our history. JISC has funded work to explore what teachers and researchers will require so they can reinterpret this huge event from a 21st Century perspective. You can read more in a new report called Digital Content for the First World War which was undertaken by King’s College, London and makes recommendations about how valuable resources can be made digitally accessible.

JISC MediaHub provides access to many collections containing First World War material. Our previous ‘War Horse’ blog post focused on the important role horses played on the battlefront. In this blog post we are looking at how the war affected the everyday lives of ordinary people.

Are You In This? : IWM (images) c.1916

Hard times followed the onset of WWI and the government wanted to show the British people how they could contribute to the war effort. Food shortages became more common and rationing was eventually introduced.

Yes – Complete Victory if You Eat Less Bread : IWM (images) c.1916

The IWM (images) Collection contains a large number of propaganda posters distributed by the government to encourage the general public to save food; amongst many other initiatives.

Piling up Rations in the Rations Shed: This item is from The First World War Poetry Digital Archive, University of Oxford (www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit)


The role of women began to change as men  departed for the War in their tens of thousands .  Many volunteered to serve as nurses at the Front and we are starting to learn more about their individual stories following the release of new material from the National Archives.

The Scottish Women’s Hospital : In The Cloister of the Abbaye at Royaumont. Dr. Frances Ivens inspecting a French patient. Imperial War Museum (images)


Many more women came forward to take over industrial and agricultural jobs which helped keep the economy running. This interesting clip from Gaumont Graphic Newsreel shows a ‘ Women Workers Procession’ in London which was held by the Women’s Social and Political Union to recruit women into  munitions work. Mrs Pankhurst and Lloyd George were key to the organisation of this event.

Women Workers Procession: Gaumont Graphic Newsreel 27-07-1916

The  Great War left its mark on almost every community in the land. Even those living in the far corners of Britain found their lives were changed irrevocably by events played out far from home. The North Highland College Johnston Collection  gives us a unique insight into social change happening around Wick; a coastal town in the top North East corner of Scotland.

Parade after Church Service on Outbreak of the Great War : North Highland College (Johnston Collection) c. 1915

This parade was probably part of a recruiting march taking place throughout the county for one of the Seaforth battallions.

Meanwhile the everyday business of the town had to carry on:

Group photo of Lipton’s staff in Wick, standing outside the shop : North Highland College (Johnston Collection) c.1915

and despite the gravity of the war situation there were still opportunities to have some fun……

Painter and decorator apprentice finishing his time (Brothering) in Market Square :
North Highland College (Johnston Collection) c.1915

Among the treasures of this collection are many studio photographs of men who were about to join the fighting. These photographs would become precious mementoes as families faced an uncertain future. Here a soldier holds his young daughter in a surprisingly informal shot; we can only begin to wonder what their thoughts would have been at such a time.

A Portrait of Mr Clyne and his Daughter – December 1915 : North Highland College (Johnston Collection)


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