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Britain / History / Modern
Modern British history (1914-present)
The First World War (1914-1918)
  Between the World Wars (1918-1939)
  The Second World War (1939-1945)
  After World War Two (1945-present)
  Further information
Related pages:
Early Britain (before 1066)
  The Middle Ages (1066-1485)
  The Tudors (1485-1603)
  The Stuarts (1603-1714)
  The Georgians (1714-1837)
  The Victorian age (1837-1914)


A brief summary of the history of Britain from the start of the First World War (1914) until now.

Ruling family King/Queen Dates


George V (5th) 1910-1936
  Edward VIII (8th) 1936-1936
  George VI (6th) 1936-1952
  Elizabeth II (2nd) 1952-

Year Prime Minister Party
1908 Herbert H. Asquith Liberal (1915: Coalition Government)
1916 David Lloyd George Liberal (Coalition Government)
1922 Andrew Bonar Law Conservative
1923 Stanley Baldwin Conservative
1924 James Ramsay MacDonald Labour
1924 Stanley Baldwin Conservative
1929 James Ramsay MacDonald Labour
1931 James Ramsay MacDonald Labour (National Government)
1935 Stanley Baldwin Conservative (National Government)
1937 Neville Chamberlain Conservative (National Government)
1940 Winston Churchill Conservative (Coalition Government)
1945 Clement Attlee Labour
1951 Winston Churchill Conservative
1955 Sir Anthony Eden Conservative
1957 Harold Macmillan Conservative
1963 Sir Alec Douglas-Home Conservative
1964 Harold Wilson Labour
1970 Edward Heath Conservative
1974 Harold Wilson Labour
1976 James Callaghan Labour
1979 Margaret Thatcher Conservative
1990 John Major Conservative
1997 Tony Blair Labour
2007 Gordon Brown Labour

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The Great War (7 DVDs)
Studio: Dd Video
Date: March 2002

All About the First World War 1914-1918
Author: Pam Robson, John York
Publisher: Hodder Wayland
Date: May 1996
Forgotten Voices of the Great War (book)
Author: Max Arthur
Publisher: Ebury Press
Date: October 2003
Audio CD
  Key Battles of World War I
Author: David Taylor
Publisher: Heinemann
Date: 2002

Trench warfare
Trench warfare
in France
Cenotaph  (c)
The Cenotaph
The Mall, London

Poppy wreath (c)
Remembering the dead

In 1914, the heir to the Austrian throne was killed in Sarajevo in Bosnia. Austria-Hungary attacked Serbia, bringing Russia into the war, and Austria-Hungary's ally Germany attacked France through the neutral country of Belgium. The invasion of Belgium caused Britain to join the war, supported by soldiers from the dominions and colonies of the British Empire. Turkey joined Germany and Austria-Hungary (the Central Powers), extending the war to Gallipoli and to parts of the Middle East. Italy was neutral at the start, but later joined on the same side as Britain's side (the Allies). Russia and Germany made peace after the Russian revolution in 1917, but American forces joined the Allies early in 1918.

Many of the largest battles were in France and Belgium (the Western Front). Soldiers dug lines in the mud called trenches. Machine guns, explosives and poison gas were used in the fighting. The misery of trench warfare can be understood by reading the poems of poets such as Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. The Germans used U-boats (submarines) to attack British ships, and zeppelins (airships filled with hydrogen) to bomb England. Aircraft began to be used by both sides first for collecting information, and later for bombing. Tanks were used for the first time.

The war ended after a successful attack by the Allies, supported by American soldiers. A peace agreement was signed which started at 11am on 11th November 1918. Nearly 1 million British men died and over 2 million were wounded during the war (more than 8 million people were killed in total). Most British towns have a war memorial listing the names of the local people who died in the war (the names of those who died in the Second World War were added later). Remembrance Day is on the Sunday closest to 11th November: there is a big ceremony at the Cenotaph in the Mall in London, and there is a two-minute silence at 11am. For photos from this event, see: Ideas/Album/RemembranceSunday. People buy poppies and wear these to remember people who have died (poppies are a symbol of the war because they grew in the battlefields on the Western Front). This tradition is now used to remember those who have died in all wars.

For more information about British history during the First World War (known at that time as the Great War):
BBC History:
The Imperial War Museum:
First World War Encyclopaedia:

Buy products connected with Britain in World War One:
Book ; Music ; Poems

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Buy products connected with Britain in the inter-war years:

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The World At War
Author: Mark Arnold-Forster
Publisher: Hodder Wayland
Date: January 2001

All About the Second World War 1939-1945
Author: Pam Robson, John York
Publisher: Hodder Wayland
Date: May 1996
  Ration Book Cookery: Recipes and History
Author: Gill Corbishley
Publisher: English Heritage Publications
Date: April 2004

Spitfire (c)

A Spitfire

Guards Memorial (c)
Guards Memorial
St James's Park, London

Buy products connected with Britain and World War Two:
Book ; Music ; Poems

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Buy products connected with Britain after World War Two:

A History of Modern Britain
Author: Andrew Marr
Publisher: Macmillan
Date: May 2007

[information to be added]


Margaret Thatcher was replaced as leader of the Conservative party by John Major, who won the general election in 1992 against a Labour party led by Neil Kinnock. However, in the 1997 general election the Labour party won a landslide victory under the leadership of Tony Blair, who also won the two following general elections. A Scottish Parliament was created in 1999, transferring some local decision-making powers from London to Edinburgh. A Welsh Assembly was created in Cardiff. In Northern Ireland a peace process led eventually to the establishment of a Northern Ireland Assembly in 2007, including both unionists (who want Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK) and republicans (who want Northern Ireland to join the Republic of Ireland). The former chancellor Gordon Brown is due to take over as the British Prime Minister in July 2007.

Following the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq's leader Saddam Hussein, British troops were part of an international coalition force backed by the United Nations. This first Gulf War quickly drove out Iraqi forces from Kuwait. British soldiers were involved in Nato operations in the Balkans following the break-up of the Yugoslav Federation. After attacks on New York and Washington by Al Qaida in September 2001 (commonly known as 9/11), the US president George W. Bush declared a "war on terror". Britain joined an international coalition of forces in Afghanistan (Al Qaida's base). It also took part in the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. A series of terrorist attacks on public transport in London on July 7 2005 (commonly known as 7/7) caused over 50 deaths and 700 injuries.

The pound joined the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM), tracking the German mark, but market pressures forced Britain to leave this on Black Wednesday in September 1992. After this time the British economy enjoyed a long period of low inflation and strong growth. The Bank of England was given control of setting interest rates - previously the Government made these decisions, influenced by political considerations. Most European Union countries adopted the euro in 2002, but the UK kept the pound as its currency.

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The Imperial War Museum:

This Sceptred Isle: The Twentieth Century
Publisher: Penguin Books
Date: September 2000
Audio CDs
075340785X Modern Britain 1914 - Present
Publisher: Kingfisher Books
Date: May 2002
Britain's Century
Publisher: Dorling Kindersley
Date: August 2000

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Watch British newsreels: Britain/History/News.
Remembrance events: Ideas/Events/November
Photos of the Remembrance Sunday ceremony: Ideas/Album/RemembranceSunday
The royal family and UK countries: Britain/Countries
Houses of Parliament: Travel/Tours/London/Parliament

Home page: Home

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