THE FIRST WORLD WAR
The First War(1914-1918) had several causes. Germany was then under the intelligent but unstable William II , who had abandoned the prudent policy of Bismark, and supported an ambitious plan for a powerful German fleet, as a challenge to British seapower. Britain had for many years been on friendly terms with Germany, owing to the unsatisfactory relations with France and Russia. But William II, in the earlier part of the century, had been trying to initiate a south-estern movement, extending his influence over the Balkan States. This new state of things would have cut off Russia from her outlets to the mediterranean, and would have endangered Brithis control over Egypt and India. France and England therefore tried to smooth out the existing differences and to eliminate any possible sources of conflict(the so-called entente cordiale); for the same reason Anglo-Russian relations were much improved. Besides, Serbia, the strongest of the Balkan states, was supported by Russia and was extremely dangerous to Austria -Ungary.
Both Austria and Germany considered war with Serbia inevitable. In june 1914, at Sarajevo, on Serbian territory, the heir to the Austrian throne, the Archduke Francis Ferdinad, was murdered: Austria after ensuring full German support, broke off relations with Serbia and attaked it at the end of July 1914. Russia supported Serbia; the Germans invaded Belgium(violating his neutrality), and England declared war on Germany. George V then changed his German name of Hanover, assuming the purely English name of Windsor.
Soon war spread throughout the world: one the one side there were Germany, Austria, Turkey and Bulgaria; on the other the main antagonists were England and the British Empire, Russia, France, Italy; The United States(who joined in 1917).
The war lasted four years: Russia collapsed in 1917, in consequence of the Bolshevik revolution, and Italy was defeated by the Austrians at Caporetto. But in 1918 England and France turned the balance in their favour, Italy regained supremacy over Austria, and the United States, who had entered the war in 1917, gave the ultimate blow to the exhausted forces of Germany.
The armistice was signed on November 11th, 1918, and the peace Treaty was made at Versailles in June 1919.
Along with the Versailles Treaty, a world-wide League of Nations had been formed at Geneva, to keep peace and avoid forever the savagery of another war.
Except for first and the last periods, the First World War consisted of long and exhausting trench-warfare, made up of attacks and counter-attaks, in which thousands of young lives were lost in advancing only a few miles, or just getting a fortified strong-post. The cost in lives to Great Britain was about 800,000 the " flower of a generation" was lost; to many who had belivied in heroism and honour, this appeared as an absurd slaughter,
The effects of this bitter war were to loosen the old beliefs and ideals. There were many economic consequences: the fall in the value of money, the rise in taxation, the excessive profits of some warprofiteers and the losses of brought about difficulties in trade, owing to the destruction of shipping, as drop in foreign markets. Coal exports diminished in consequence of the use of oil and hydro-elettric power. The iron, steel and textile industries were also declining, owing to the development of industry in the United States, in Japan and India. It took many years before Great Britain was able to recover from the heavy blows of the war to her industrial power.
The depressed situation in the coal industry caused the general strike of 1926, as mine-owners had reduced the workers wages. It was the only general strike in English history (that is one in which one category was supported by other categories of workers, such as the railwaymen and the transport workers). Except for a few extremists, the stike was peaceful, but, after ten days, the Trade Unions leaders, for fear that a revolutionary movement might develop, called off the general strike. The miners, left alone, continued an unprofitable struggle for six more months, but were at lenght obliged to go back to work.