This year marks the 100-year anniversary of one of the most significant moments in British history but new research commissioned by SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity has revealed that many young people have no idea about the historic facts surrounding the First World War.
The One Poll survey quizzed the nation on their basic historical knowledge and understanding of the Great War and revealed a distinct difference between ‘Millennials’ knowledge compared to ‘Generation X’ and the ‘Baby Boomers.’
SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity is calling on the Great British public to keep the nation’s history alive and encourage families to share their stories of the First World War with the younger generations.
According to the poll, Millennials were not aware who the British Prime Ministers were during the War. Almost half (42 per cent) of Millennials mistakenly thought Winston Churchill held office and one in ten (11 per cent) 18-24 year olds thought it was Margaret Thatcher. In stark contrast, the Baby Boomers (84 per cent) and Generation X (73 per cent) knew that it was Herbert Henry Asquith and David Lloyd George who led Britain through the Great War.
There was also confusion in regard to who was monarch during World War One. Three quarters of Millennials (75 per cent) were unaware that King George V was on the throne – with almost one in ten (9 per cent) mistakenly thinking it was George VII, our current 4-year old prince.
Not only is our young generation puzzled about the country’s leadership during this period, but there also seems to be considerable confusion over who was involved in the First World War and the key events that took place.
When asked whose assassination sparked the outbreak of World War One, less than half of Millennials (45 per cent) knew the answer – with 6 per cent believing it was the American President John Kennedy. The older generation of Baby Boomers, put their younger counterparts to shame, with 78 per cent correctly stating that it was the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne that led to the outbreak of war.
Knowledge of Britain’s history was further called into question when respondents were asked to identify the countries that Britain fought against during World War One, a quarter (25 per cent) of Millennials said ‘Russia’ and almost two in ten (19 per cent) said ‘France’ – two of Britain’s greatest allies during the war and original members of the ‘Triple Entrente’.
Over two-thirds (68 per cent) of Millennial respondents did not know where the ‘Home Front’ was – with 81 per cent of Baby Boomers knowing the correct answer is Britain. Over half of 18-24 year olds (58 per cent) surveyed also did not realise that the Battle of the Somme, the war’s bloodiest and most notorious battle took place in our neighbouring country, France.
When asked to identify which historic events took place during World War One, Millennial respondents listed Pearl Harbour (16 per cent), Independence Day (8 per cent), the Battle of Hastings (7% per cent) and the Fire of London (4 per cent) – none of which occurred at the same time as the First World War.
Struggling with fact or fiction, 5 per cent of Millennials thought that the ‘Battle for Helms Deep’, from The Lord of the Rings trilogy was the largest battle to take place during World War One – not the Battle for Passchendaele.
SSAFA was the only national Armed Forces charity around during World War One. At the outbreak of the war, the Government called on SSAFA to take care of the families of soldiers going to the Front. SSAFA was there for our Armed Forces then and is still here for them now.
Justine Baynes, Director at SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity, said:
“Millennials are the first generation who may not have known a family member who fought in World War One so it’s not surprising that there may be a lack of knowledge about the war. The further we move away from the conflict, the more important it becomes to keep the World War One stories of bravery and courage alive and commemorate those who gave up their lives for our country.
“To mark the centenary of the end of World War One this year, we’re calling on the Nation to pass the stories of World War One down to the younger generations so they will be celebrated and never be forgotten.
“SSAFA is immensely proud of its legacy as the first charity to be called upon to support the families left behind during World War One. We have been there for our Armed Forces community since 1885 and we will continue to be there for many years to come.”
To find out how you can fundraise, volunteer or support SSAFA in this centenary year, please visit our WW1 page.