Lest we forget…

A new survey reveals some alarming statistics about how little people in Britain know about World War I

Somme poppy landscape

There is a risk that in just 100 years, facts about World War I will be forgotten, according to a survey by DK Publishing, carried out to coincide with the release of World War I: The Definitive Visual Guide.


The causes of the war – and the reason for Britain’s involvement – have always been a confusing mixture of political alliances and old grudges. Although most respondents did know that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was the trigger for war, 22% could not identify him.

Over 60% didn’t know Britain had a commitment to protect Belgium so, when it was invaded by Germany, Britain was forced to declare war.

Of the 2,300 people surveyed, one in 10 thought Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Winston Churchill and Benito Mussolini did not fight in World War I (only Stalin did not serve). Hitler joined the Bavarian army, Mussolini fought in the Italian forces and Churchill spent several months at the front.

Whereas a total of 306 British soldiers were executed for cowardice, desertion or dereliction of duties, 50% thought the number was 3,000 men while 20% thought it was nearer 30,000.

Richard Overy, Professor of History at the University of Exeter, said: “It is as important as ever that today’s generation remembers the sacrifices made 100 years ago and these results show that there is still much to learn about World War I.

“It would be interesting to see how different these responses are by the end of the anniversary year,” added Overy, who was Editorial Consultant on the Visual Guide.


So how much do you know about World War I? In issue two of History Revealed, find out more about this terrible global conflict in our FREE pull-out magazine – 50 Big Questions about World War I