The seeds of conflict which led to the First World War, also known as the Great War, can be found in a number of areas: the distrust between the French and Germans after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, competition between the Germans and the British for naval supremacy, and the increase of nationalistic feeling across Europe in the late 1800s, particularly in Southern Europe.

As most school children know, conflict began when the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, visited Bosnia-Herzegovina to watch troops on manoeuvres on June 28, 1914.

The Archduke knew the visit would be dangerous because many in Bosnia-Herzegovina did not want Austrian rule and instead wanted union with Serbia. In 1910 a Serb, Bogdan Zerajic, had attempted to assassinate General Varesanin, the Austrian governor of Bosnia-Herzegovina, when he was opening parliament in Sarajevo.

Zerajic was a member of the Black Hand group which wanted Bosnia-Herzegovina to leave the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Franz Ferdinand was considered a serious threat to a union between Bosnia-Herzogovina and Serbia.

Black Hand member Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914 in Sarajevo.

In July, Serbian Prime Minister Nikola Pasic told the Austro-Hungarian government that he was unable to hand over Princip and his accomplices because it would be in violation of Serbia's constitution and criminal law.

Three days later the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia. The declaration was to trigger a series of events that would throw the world into horrific conflict for five years.

On July 26, Russia promised that it would help Serbia if attacked by Austro-Hungary. Austro-Hungary declared war on Serbia on July 28.

On the last day of July 1914 Russia mobilised its armed forces in support of Serbia. The Russian government sent troops to its borders with Germany and Austro-Hungary. The next day, August 1, Germany declared war on Russia.

In turn, European nations supported their allies and declared war on their enemies. Italy decided to remain neutral, and thus did not honour its Triple Alliance agreement.

In early August, Germany declared war on France. Britain guaranteed Belgian neutrality under a treaty signed in 1839. Germany was warned that Britain would go to war if the Germans invaded Belgium.

Germany ignored the British ultimatum and marched into Belgium on August 4. In response, Britain declared war on Germany.

The next day, Austro-Hungary declared war on Russia. By mid-August, France had declared war on Austro-Hungary and Britain declared war on Austro-Hungary also. On August 14, France invaded German occupied territory inLorriane. Europe was at war.


The War had a major impact on life in the North-East. Factory workers and miners joined the Northumberland Fusiliers, the Durham Light Infantry or the Green Howards, a North Yorkshire regiment.

The life of many women changed as they had to adapt to living without men of fighting age. Soon, women had to take on tasks and work previously held by men.

The war came to the North-East in 1914 when German battleships sailed out onto the North Sea, headed northwards, then turned their guns towards the land and shelled Hartlepool, Whitby and Scarborough.

This website has obtained permission from Great North Publishing to tell the story of the bombardment of the North-East in words and pictures, which you can read about here.

Between 1914 and 1918 the North-East saw an armaments boom. The First World War saw a huge increase in the demand for armaments constructed by Armstrong Whitworth's factory at Elswick. The naval yards of Armstrong Mitchell at Low Walker, Hawthorn Leslie at Hebburn and Palmer at Jarrow also benefited from manufacturing for the war effort, as did industries on Teesside and Wearside.

In November, 1916 dramatic events again unfolded in Hartlepool when a German Zeppelin was shot down a mile from the town by a pilot from a Seaton Carew aerodrome.

The conflict finally came to an end in 1918 November 11, at 11am when cease fire was called.

All across the North-East, declarations of peace were read by community leaders. The world breathed a sigh of relief, but life had changed irrevocably for most people and the peace would be short-lived, with a world war breaking out again 21 years later.

Read about the First World War and Grangetown, Middlesbrough here:

From time to time our Echo Memories columnists write about The First World War in the North-East. Echo Memories can be found here, or use the left links.


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