Britain in World War I

Contributor: Suzanne Riordan. Lesson ID: 13289

Boy soldiers fought in a confusing war, suffragettes fought for the right to vote, and Ireland fought for independence. Who won the battles of the early 20th century in Britain?



learning style
Auditory, Kinesthetic, Visual
personality style
Lion, Otter, Beaver, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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  • Wondering how Britain got involved in World War I?

The video below explains it all (sort of!).

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World War I was the first war that involved countries worldwide. It lasted from 1914 to 1918 and started the decline of the British Empire.

This period also brought great changes for women and schoolchildren at home!

World War I

Take a look at a map showing all the nations that participated in the war (green = Allies, orange = Central Powers).

WWI map

  • That's a lot of people, isn't it?
  • How did so many countries get involved?


  • Did you understand the causes of World War I from the video?

Let's go over it again because it can be very confusing!

Before the war, many countries had made alliances with each other. This means they had agreements to fight on each other's behalf if one got involved in a conflict with another country.

This graphic shows the alliances before the war.

WWI alliances chart

As you can see, there were two groups of alliances.

the Triple Entente: Russia, France, and Britain, which were joined later by other allies

the Triple Alliance: Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy (which changed sides later on)

Remember that all the countries above also had empires, which means they were in control of other territories around the world and were rather touchy about any other power becoming involved in their territories!

So, when Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria, visited Bosnia, he was shot by a Serbian who thought that Serbia should control Bosnia instead of Austria. This triggered the gathering of each of these empires into different sides and started the war.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, 1919

Another interesting fact is that many of the heads of these European countries were related because they were descended from Queen Victoria. She is considered the grandmother of Europe because so many heads of state were her children and grandchildren.

Watch the video below to see some of those relationships. (You can also check out our Victorian Age lesson, found under Additional Resources in the right-hand sidebar.)

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Now, delve into the history of the war!

  • What was it like?

You'll research specific aspects later, but look at a few topics first.

Boy Soldiers

Many young men wanted to fight in the war, even though they were not old enough. Some were as young as 12!

Watch the video below to learn out what happened when they turned up at enlistment centers and what happened when their parents complained that their sons were missing!

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Western Front

A front is basically a field of battle. In World War I, there were two fronts: the Western Front and the Eastern Front.

Germany invaded Belgium and the tiny country of Luxembourg, and they tried to invade France. Soldiers from the British Empire and France tried to fight off the Germans.

Both sides dug long channels in the dirt, called trenches, from Belgium in the north to Switzerland in the south. The armies gradually moved north in the Race to the Sea, each trying to go around the opposing army.

Map of the Western Front, World War I

Soldiers ate, worked, fought, lived, and died in those trenches.

preserved Western Front trenches

  • What do you think that was like? (Hint: not fun.)

Watch this next video to learn more.

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End of the War

The war officially ended on November 11, 1918. Germany surrendered, and both sides signed the Treaty of Versailles.

Watch the following video to learn more.

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  • How did Britain's territories around the world help in the war effort?

All the following countries sent troops to fight in the war.

  • India
  • Canada
  • Australia
  • South Africa
  • New Zealand

However, although the empire helped to win the war for Britain, the war quickened the loss of the empire. Paying for the war was so costly that it was tough to maintain the empire.

Watch the video below to find out more about the British Empire and how it grew and was lost over time.

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One country in particular that wanted to find a way out of the British Empire was Ireland.

In 1800, the Act of Union had united the kingdoms of Ireland and England, but many Irish people resented British rule and wanted to establish an independent state.

Watch a portion of the following video to learn what happened in Ireland from the late 18th century until after WWI.

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  • What was happening at home in the UK — that is, on the home front — before, after, and during the war?


  • What was a suffragette?

You may have seen one in the movie Mary Poppins.

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Women in the UK had been campaigning to be allowed to vote for some years, starting with a petition to the government in 1865. They stopped during the war effort but resumed the struggle after the war. Some went to prison and even went on hunger strikes!

Finally, in 1918, the Representation of the People Act allowed women over 30 who met minimum property qualifications to vote (which applied to about 8.4 million women)! Later on, the age was lowered to 21.

WSPU leaders Annie Kenney (left) and Christabel Pankhurst, 1908


Public schools were started, and poor children could get an education rather than working all day as they had before. The literacy rate (the percentage of people who were able to read) went up to 97%!

Now that you've gotten an education on Britain during World War I, move on to the Got It? section to test your knowledge!

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