Topic Guide: First World War

FWW battlefield

A battlefield from the First World War


    • First World War topics covered here include: Imperial War Museums, a timeline of the Great War, trenches, poppies, weapons, politicians, women, Christmas truce, peace, war artists, and poppies.

      Imperial War Museum

      The Imperial War Museum (also known as IWM) is a great place to start learning more about all kinds of conflicts in Britain and the Commonwealth from the 20th century. It's the most important museum in the UK on the First World War. They have some really useful information on their website, including a dedicated section about the First World War.

      The First World War began around 100 years ago in 1914, and ended in 1918. Although it happened so long ago, we are still connected to it today. You can find out how some of the ways in which we are still connected in this short film from the Imperial War Museum.

      You can also see the faces of the soldiers that fought in the First World War on the IWM's Faces of the First World War Flickr page.


      The In Flanders Field Museum in Belgium has a very detailed timeline of all the major events throughout the war and includes some causes and consequences.

      Life in the trenches
      The National Archives has a personal account of what life in the trenches was like from the war dairies of General Haig (written in 1915).

      Weapons of the First World War
      The First World War saw some types of weapons being used for the first time, such as:
      • poison gas
      • tanks
      • submarine torpedoes
      • planes equipped with weapons such as machine guns

      You can see a German gas mask at the Museum of Technology.

      You can discover facts about the tanks used in the First World War at the Tank Museum.

      Wartime politicians
      When studying history, it is always important to be aware of the politicians of the time. Here are three of the central political leaders from the First World War.
      1. The Prime Minister of Great Britain during the Great War was David Lloyd-George, you can discover facts about him with the IWM and look at some related objects including photographic evidence.
      2. Woodrow Wilson was the President of the United States from 1912-1920, you can discover facts about him here.
      3. The French leader during the First World War was Georges Clemenceau, who has a whole museum in Paris dedicated to him.

      Women’s roles

      The National Archives has put together an interesting case study investigating women, work and the war and examines the evidence to explore how important this was in helping women getting the vote (which is known as ‘Suffrage’) in 1918. You can discover more about the struggle for women's suffrage with our Topic Guide.

      During the war, women took on some of the jobs traditionally done by men. You can see an example of this in a photograph from Heritage Explorer.

      Christmas Truce
      On Christmas day, 1914, there was an outbreak of peace in the trenches. This is known at the Christmas Truce. The Imperial War Museum has a good account of the details and the National Army Museum has a photograph of that day taken by a soldier.

      Peace making

      The fighting of the First World War came to an end on 11th November 1918 when the Armistice was signed. The Imperial War Museum can tell you more about the Armistice and what it meant.

      After the Armistice came the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, you can find out more about it here.

      War artists
      War artists are a specific kind of artist that depict what war is like and how it affects people. Some artists, like Bruce Bairnsfather, sketched cartoons in the trenches. You can see some examples of Bairnsfather's work on Show Me's collections page.
      © Jean-Paul Grandmont
      In Flanders Field is a poem written by John McCrae in 1915 as a personal reaction to the death of his friend. This poem is the reason poppies are a symbol of remembrance. Here is an early poppy wreath from the Kegworth Museum in Leicestershire.

      You can listen to a recording from Soundcloud of someone reading the poem here.

      The Guelph Museum in Canada has a handwritten manuscript of the poem, which you can see here.
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