The next section in the chapter 2 “A Long and Illustrious History” is “The Twentieth Century”. It details British history from the turn of the century through World War II.
World War I
- – In the early 20th century Britain had a powerful military, thriving trade, and strong political institutions.
- – Focus turned inward to improved social programs, including:
- Unemployment assistance
- Pensions for the elderly
- Free school meals
- Aid to women and children who had been involved in a separation or divorce.
- In addition, members of Parliament were able to collect a salary for their service, giving more people the opportunity to participate in politics.
- – At the same time other countries became more imperialistic and focused on military strength.
International tensions grew higher. Finally, the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand
prompted a series of events that lead to World War I.
- – Britain was part of the Allied powers, a coalition of countries that included France, Belgium, Russia,
Japan, Serbia, Greece, Italy, Romania and the United States.
- – The Allies fought against the Central Powers which included Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire,
the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria.
- – British forces included troops from many of the British colonies, including men from India, the West
Indies, Australia, Canada, Africa and New Zealand. There were more than 2 million British
- – The war ended on November 11th, 1918 at 11 am. The Allies were victorious.
- – Prior to World War I, the British government proposed “Home Rule” for Ireland. First suggested in
the 19th century, Home Rule would allow Ireland to have its own parliament but would still be a part of the UK. Much of Ireland was in favor of this proposal but Protestants in six counties in the north disagreed. They wanted Ireland to remain under British rule.
o When World War I began, the British government sought to delay the advent of Home Rule. Irish Nationalists did not want to wait and rebelled. In 1916 there was an uprising in Dublin, and the leaders of this uprising were executed under British law. This began a period of fighting that pitted Irish Nationalists against the British army and the Irish police.
o A peace treaty was signed in 1921, and in 1922 Ireland was divided into two countries. The six Protestant counties became the country of Northern Ireland and remained under British rule. The rest of Ireland became a free country. In 1949, Ireland became a republic.
o Not everyone agreed with this solution, and a long period of terrorist activity began between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. The period of fighting became known as “The Troubles”.
The inter-war period
- – In the 1920’s Britain’s economy was strong. Many new houses were built, including numerous public housing projects.
- – In 1929 the worldwide “Great Depression” began. This had different effects on different groups of people:
- Those in traditional heavy industry, especially shipbuilding, suffered mass layoffs.
- New industries, such as aviation and automobile construction expanded and created jobs. Car ownership doubled between 1930 – 1939, and many new houses were constructed. o Prices fell and those who had jobs, had more discretionary income to spend.
- – Many cultural changes happened during this time:
- Writers Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh became popular.
- The BBC began radio programming beginning in 1922. Regular television programming began in 1936. World War II
– Adolph Hitler took power in Germany in 1933. He felt that Germany was unfairly treated by the Allies after World War I. He also wanted to expand Germany.
- Hitler became aggressive with the countries surrounding Germany. Once he invaded Poland, Britain and France decided to act. They declared war on Germany in 1939.
- When the war started, German, Italy and Japan were united against the Allied forces of Britain, France, Poland, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
- Germany invaded and took control of Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Belgium and the Netherlands. In 1940, Hitler invaded France.
– At this time Winston Churchill was the Prime Minister of Britain. He was an inspirational figure in the Allied war effort. He was first elected Prime Minister in 1940 but lost re-election in 1945. He was re-elected Prime Minister in 1951 and remained as such until stepping down in 1964.
- After Hitler defeated the French Allied Forces, Britain staged a large evacuation of British and French troops in France. Civilian volunteers helped the British navy rescue 300,000 men from the beaches of Dunkirk. This gave Britain enough resources to better fight against an invasion at home.
- From June 1940 until the invasion of Russia in 1941, the British Empire was almost single- handedly standing against the German forces.
- Hitler wanted to invade Britain, but needed to control the British airspace first. The British won a decisive air battle called the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940, using Spitfire and Hurricane type aircraft. These planes were designed and built in Britain.
- Even though the British won the battle, the Germans continued to attack at night, bombing London and other British cities. This was known as the Blitz. Coventry was almost totally destroyed and there was major damage to other cities. The British took pride in their ability to survive this, and recovery from the Blitz is still known today as a measure of British resiliency.
- – While fighting at home, Britain also battled against Japan in Burma and Singapore, but lost. The United States entered the war when Japan bombed their base at Pearl Harbor in 1941.
- – Also in 1941, Hitler invaded Soviet Russia. This was a huge battle. Although the Soviets won, there were huge losses on both sides. These losses helped turn the tide of the war.
- – Allied forces won a series of battles, culminating in the defeat of Germany after the Battle of Normandy in May of 1945.
- – Japan surrendered after the United States dropped atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.