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1.1 World War One (in One Take)

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Lesson description

This iconic video provides a highly engaging introduction to World War 1. It not only covers the key events of the war itself, but looks at what happened in the years beforehand that led to the declaration of war.

This lesson contains:

  • The chronology of World War One, from the 1914 assassination of Franz Ferdinand to the armistice in November 1918.
  • An introduction to the European leaders that had the biggest impact on the outbreak of World War One.
  • Influential and powerful figures, such as the Russian revolutionary, Vladimir Lenin, and the assassin, Gavrilo Princip.
  • An insight into the contributions made by Commonwealth soldiers and women on the Home Front and the Western Front.



Fact Sheet

What was going on in Europe before the War?

Before 1914, a rise in nationalism and imperialism caused threats to empires. Several European powers were forming alliances in response to Germany’s attempts to expand: Britain, France and Russia signed an alliance as a result of Germany’s military expenditure, and political instability in the Balkans led to an alliance between Germany and Austria-Hungary, who were at odds with Serbia as a result of the Balkan wars and Slavic nationalism. 

Who was Gavrilo Princip?

Gavrilo Princip was a Bosnian Revolutionary student who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife, Sophie, in Sarajevo in 1914. This action allowed Austria-Hungary to declare war on Serbia, beginning the First World War. 


Princip believed that the assassination of a member of the Habsburg family was the first step to remove Austro-Hungarian rule in the Balkans and uniting South Slav people into one nation. 

Where did the fighting take place?

The bulk of the fighting in the First World War took place on the Western Front, a 400-mile stretch of land that spread through France and Belgium from the Swiss border to the North Sea. Fighting also occurred in eastern and southeast Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.

Why did Russia quit the war?

Russia had its own revolution in 1918 in which the Russian Tsar was overthrown by Russian Communists. Their leader, Lenin, met with the German Kaiser to negotiate peace, so that Russia could focus on developing a new communist state. 


Russia signed a peace treaty with Germany at Brest-Litovsk and much of what was previously Russian territory was divided and handed over to Germany, ending Russia’s involvement in the war.

How was the USA involved?

The USA remained neutral at the beginning of WWI. However, in 1917, in an attempt to stop Britain receiving any foreign aid, German U-Boats sank several American ships, leading the USA to declare war on Germany. A year later, 200,000 American troops were arriving in Europe per month, eventually securing victory for the Allies.

How many people died as a result of the war?

Estimates about the number of total deaths as a result of the war total over 16 million, making the war one of the deadliest wars to its date. Two-thirds of military deaths were in battle, and one third as a result of disease. Many soldiers who survived were disabled and/or suffered with PTSD as a result of the fighting. 


Video Transcript

ChrisOne bullet from a young Serbian’s gun, His trigger the spark for World War One. But how did one shot prove so lethal, As to kill over 17 million people?
It’s time for the History Bomb of World War One. Let’s set the scene.
Late 19th Century, Germany was booming, But there were signs of a storm brewing, Her emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm the second, Had plans to teach his rivals a lesson.
Kaiser Wilhelm IINow Deutschland is high, but I’ll take her higher, One word, two syllables...EMPIRE!
Like Britain I will rule sea and land,
Watch out world, it’s the Fatherland!
ChrisIt’s worth pointing out that the Kaiser was mentally unstable, but unfortunately for the rest of Europe he was in charge. Germany’s neighbours started to take notice.
General JoffreHey Russia, have you heard this guy?
I’m thinking of putting my army on standby.
Tsar Nicholas III know, cousin Willie is giving me nausea,
And now he’s signed an agreement with Austria?
General JoffreZut alors! Well, we’ve got your back, We’ll be here if the Kaiser attacks!
ChrisIt was against that backdrop that Gavrilo Princip, a young Serbian nationalist shot dead Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austrian throne, setting off a terrible chain of events. Are you ready? Let’s go!
Austria and Germany attack into Serbia,
Who are allies with Russia (didn’t mention that earlier). Russia gets ready to advance,
And that brings in their pals, yep, France.
Germany attack France as quick as they can,
Adopt an approach called the ‘Schlieffen Plan’.
They go through Belgium, awful decision,
As Belgium have friends, namely Great Britain.
In come Italy, now let’s join the advance,
With the first British troops fighting in France.
British OfficerForward!
Get down boys, we must take cover,
Or we’ll be more machine gun fodder! Good Lord, those Howitzer shells are big! Without delay, quick chaps, dig!
ChrisBy November 1914, 400 miles of barbed wire and mud Stretched from the Alps to Belgium. Commonwealth soldiers arrived from Australia, Africa and India, but still more troops were needed.
Field Marshall KitchenerMen of Britain, there’s much to do,
Your time is now. Your country needs you!
British SoldierSir, we’ve just had news from Gallipoli.
Field Marshall KitchenerAh yes, against the Turks, a resounding victory?
British SoldierNo sir, 500,000 casualties,
And a telegram: “SEND HELP PLEASE”
Field Marshall KitchenerOh dear...
ChrisBack in the trenches there was more to fear, As chemical weapons began to appear.
British OfficerGas! Gas! An ecstasy of fumbling,
No mask? A damp cloth’s better than nothing!
Young British SoldierSir, I can’t see! The gas stings and burns!
British OfficerCome here soldier, let’s get you to a nurse.
ChrisBehind the front line, volunteer nurses tended to the injured soldiers. Both at home and on the front line, women made tremendous contributions to the war effort.
NurseHold still, deep breaths, I’ll soon be through, It’s barbaric what they’ve done to you.
British SoldierThank you miss, you’re a real pearl, These trenches are no place for a girl.
NurseNeither are they fit for a man!
But we’re here to help the best we can,
And who do you think manufactured your gun? Us girls will see this war is won!
Chris1916 saw terrible losses on the Western Front. The Germans advanced at Verdun and the British went forward at the Somme, but neither battle proved decisive.
Meanwhile on the Eastern Front, the Russians were achieving some successes.
British SoldierSir, news from the Russian army.
British OfficerBlimey that pigeon’s flown a long way! Let me guess, they’ve been pushed back?
British SoldierNo, actually they’ve had a good crack. General Brusilov makes good progress, His wide attacks put Fritz under stress, He’s advanced no less than 60 miles.
British OfficerSuperb, great news, I like his style!
British SoldierOh, hang on, and now his attack’s been stalled, German reserves have been called.
British OfficerOh, blast!
NarratorIt would take new tactics and technology to break the deadlock on either front. In 1917 Germany made a fatal calculation by pursuing a ruinous naval strategy.
Kaiser Wilhelm IIThis war has gone on long enough, It’s time for Deutschland to get tough! The Allies need imports to stay alive, Cut this off and they cannot survive!
ChrisGerman U-Boats attacked Allied shipping to cut off supply. Critically they attacked American ships and in response the United States declared war on Germany. It would take another year, however, for American troops to actually arrive in Europe. In the meantime, a Russian revolutionary seized his moment.
LeninMy Russian brothers, listen in,
Let me introduce myself, Vladimir Lenin.
I promise to take this country far,
But first we need to kick out the Tsar!
Good, that was easy, now everyone’s equal, We’ll have bread, land and peace for the people. I think Mother Russia’s had enough of this war, I’ll meet with the Germans to settle the score!
ChrisThe meeting took place in November 1917 and Russian land was divided by Germany into independent states, including the Ukraine. With Russia now out of the war, the Germans moved all efforts to the Western Front and planned a colossal effort in the spring of 1918. Ultimately the offensive failed and, at this pivotal moment, the Americans finally arrived.
American SoldierHey, what’s up! No photographs please We got your memo and...jeez!
Things have gotten out of hand.
Good thing you called up Uncle Sam!
The enemy had better reach for the skies, We’ll light it up like the 4th of July!
British SoldierGet down you idiot!
ChrisBy May 1918, 200,000 American troops were arriving per month. And after withstanding the German offensive, new technology and tactics proved decisive for the allies.
British OfficerRight chaps, this is it!
We have orders to make the hit.
Keep behind the tanks, and use the Lewis gun, A creeping barrage will shatter the Hun.
Our planes will protect from the skies,
Then we’ll hold the line until support arrives.
ChrisFinally the Allies got some traction,
Putting the Germans out of action.
At 11am on the 11th November,
The guns fell silent upon German surrender. All in all, a tragic loss,
Europe secured, but at what cost?
A generation lost, we are forever in debt. 100 years hence, lest we forget.