Britain and its allies played a central role in the First World War, which happened at the start of the 20th Century. Learn more about the First World War, practise your reading skills and prepare for the Life in the UK test.

First world war​

The early 20th century was a time of optimism in Britain. The nation with its expansive Empire, well-admired navy, thriving industry and strong political institutions, was what is now known as a global 'superpower'. It was also a time of social progress. Financial help for the unemployed, old-age pensions and free school meals were just a few of the important measures introduced. Various laws were passed to improve safety in the workplace; town planning rules were tightened to prevent the further development of slums; and better support was given to mothers and their children after divorce or separation. Local government became more democratic and a salary for members of Parliament (MPs) was introduced for the first time, making it easier for more people to take part in public life.

The era of optimism and progress was cut short when war broke out between several European nations. On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated. This set off a chain of events leading to the First World War (1914-18). But while the assassination provided the trigger for war, other factors - such as a growing sense of nationalism in many European states; increasing militarism; imperialism; and the division of the major European powers into two camps - all set the conditions for war.

The conflict was centred in Europe, but it was a global war involving nations from around the world. Britain was part of the Allied Powers, which included (amongst others) France, Russia, Japan, Belgium, Serbia - and later, Greece, Italy, Romania and the United States. The whole of the British Empire was involved in the conflict - for example, more than a million Indians fought on behalf of Britain in lots of different countries, and around 40,000 were killed. Men from the West Indies, Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Canada also fought with the British. The Allies fought against the Central Powers - mainly Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire and later Bulgaria. Millions of people were killed or wounded, with more than 2 million British casualties. One battle, the British attack on the Somme in July 1916, resulted in about 60,000 British casualties on the first day alone.

The First World War ended at 11.00 am on 11th November 1918 with victory for Britain and its allies.

This text is taken from Life in the United Kingdom, a Guide for New Residents, 3rd edition.  Page 53       

© Crown Copyright 2013


Task 1 - comprehension

Task 2 - vocabulary

Task 3 - categorising

Life in the UK test - make sure you know

Before you take the Life in the UK test, make sure you understand:

  • What happened before and during the First World War



Think of another country you know well.

  • Was this country affected by the First World War?
  • If so, in what ways?

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You can find out more about the Life in the UK test, and about applying for British Citizenship here: