Women at a munitions factory in England during World War One
Women at a munitions factory in England during World War One ©

© Imperial War Museum/ Q30017

Research by the British Council in seven countries reveals a widespread lack of understanding of the global scale and impact of the First World War, including in Germany.

The report, Remember the World as well as the War, shows that knowledge of the conflict - which began 100 years ago this year - is largely limited to the fighting on the Western Front. Less than a third of 7488 people questioned are aware that the Middle East (29%) and North America (28%) played a part in the war, and less than one in five are aware that Asia (17%) and Africa (11%) were involved.

With this report, the British Council calls on the world to use the centenary commemorations to create a better understanding of the global nature of the war – recognising its ongoing impact on trust and understanding between the UK and countries around the world.

Lesser-known facts about the global scale of the war, highlighted in the report, include:

• Gandhi’s first civil disobedience campaign against British authority in 1919 stemmed from the unrealised hope that India’s contribution to the First World War of around 1.5 million men would be honoured with a transition to self-government.
• More than one million African auxiliary personnel were – sometimes forcibly – deployed in the war. About 100,000 died.
However, these facts are much better-known in the countries affected, and can contribute significantly to attitudes to the UK today. The research for the report was carried out for the British Council by YouGov in Egypt, France, Germany, India, Russia, Turkey and the UK. In each country, between 1000 and 1200 people were surveyed in an online poll.

Some of the results from Germany are:

  • 25% overall rate the First World War as one of their top three most important international events of the past 100 years.
  • The younger age groups have higher percentages of respondents who attribute top three significance to the First World War: 28% in the 18-24 group and 34% in the 25-34 group compared to 22% in the 35+ section of the population.
  • 30% overall know that what happened in Belgium at Christmas 1914 was an unofficial truce between German and British soldiers, which involved a football match.
  • 69% overall know that the location of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which sparked the First World War, took place in Sarajevo.
  • The younger age groups are less well-informed about this than the older ones (18-34 section: 56% versus 35-54 section: 66% versus 55+ section: 79%).
  • There is also a striking gender gap in knowledge about India having fought against Germany: 32% of male respondents knew this while only half this percentage of female respondents did. A similar gender gap can be observed regarding Turkey fighting on the same side as Germany: 40% of male respondents identified this compared to 21% of female ones.
  • 65% overall feel that Germany is still affected by the consequences of the First World War.
  • 25% overall feel that ‘The First World War and its outcomes have a lasting impact on my country’s international relations and how it is viewed by other countries today’, with the youngest age group coming out as the top percentage (35%), followed by the oldest group with 27%.

Ten most frequent associations of German respondents to the survey:
Death / Gas / Battle of Verdun /Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand / Treaty of Versailles / Abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II / Hitler / Destruction / Poverty / 1914-1918

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