Battle to tell world wars apart

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C’EST la guerre. But which one? Britons are guilty of mixing up the Great War with the Second World War when it comes to their “understanding” of 20th century history, a new survey reveals today.

A YouGov poll of 2,000 people across the UK, found that 84 per cent want to learn about the Great War. But 19 per cent believed that Britain declared war on Germany in 1914, because of German troops invading Poland – the act of aggression that caused 1939-45 war.

The poll was commissioned by the think-tank British Future for a report Do Mention The War, which aims to raise awareness of the First World War as the centenary of its opening months approaches next year.

Similar confusion was discovered when the sample was asked who was prime minister at the beginning of the Great War. More than one in ten (12 per cent) people believed Neville Chamberlain was resident in Downing Street at the outbreak of the First World War – some 23 years before he became prime minister. Only 9 per cent knew that Herbert Asquith was prime minister. Fewer than half (48 per cent) were aware that it was the assassination of Franz Ferdinand which triggered it.

Sixteen per cent thought the Great War included the Battle of the Bulge, the German offensive in the second half of the Second World War.

Sunder Katwala, director of British Future, said: “The concentration on the Second World War in films, etc, means people struggle to keep World War One apart.”