Britain’s First World Wars

Wellington’s victories over the forces of Napoleon were critical to Britain’s ascendancy to superpower status. Peter Snow wonders why such a thrilling period of history is too often neglected.

‘Why do we call it World War Two? Because, a few years earlier, there was a World War One.’ This is how one teacher – only half joking – described to me the desperate state to which the level of British schoolchildren’s historical knowledge has descended.

The removal of compulsory history at GCSE level and the obsession with modules has killed the excitement and relevance of history for many children. Studying the sweep of interrelated events that give history drive and cogency has been abandoned; it is no longer regarded as a serious part of a young person’s mental equipment as he or she leaves school. That is a dangerous mistake. Whatever we do in life, we need an understanding of the past.

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