by Larry Smith
One hundred years ago last Saturday, the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was assassinated in Sarajevo by a Serbian nationalist struggling for independence.
Germany, then the new rising power of Europe, supported its neighbour Austria-Hungary against Serbia and its patron, Russia; with war declared at the end of July 1914. The British, French and Turks joined in the following month, and by Christmas the various armies had suffered more than three million casualties.
By the time the war ended in November 1918, over 16 million had died and 20 million had been wounded, ranking it among the deadliest conflicts in human history. It was known thereafter as the Great War - replacing the Napoleonic Wars for pride of place in European memory.
A hundred years ago, the British Empire encompassed nine million square miles and 348 million people. And about a third of the troops that Britain raised during the war came from the colonies— a million Indians, half a million Canadians, half a million Australians and New Zealanders, 250,000 Africans, and 16,000 West Indians.
The British government has committed over £50 million to this year's centenary commemoration of the First World War. The money is paying for a major refurbishment of London's Imperial War Museum, as well as a national series of commemorative events and lectures which launches in August.