In 1914 Britain declared war on Germany as she had invaded neutral Belgium. The conflict soon became worldwide and lasted four years.
At the start the British army consisted of volunteers, but two years later men were forced to join the army. It was the first European war Britain had taken part in since the Napoleonic wars (except for the Crimean War in 1854-56). The effects were devastating and disastrous owing to the use of modern weapons. When the war was over the government assured improvements in living conditions for young men returning from the war, but hopes for a better future were crushed.
At the beginning of the century Britain was no longer the power she had been during the past. Many were the causes of this slow but gradual decline.
In Europe other countries started to challenge and threaten Britan’s economic power, such as Gerrnany and France, an also the United States constituted a growing power in way of expansion. Moreover British industries underwent a critical period and there was in the production goods. Science and technology were no longer British economy’s exclusive privilage. It was extremely expensive to keep up the Empire and its decline was underway. After the first world war the “Dominions” of South Africa, Canada. Australia and New Zealand, gained their independence but remained members of the “British Commonwealth of Nations”. A different fate however was reserved to non-white colonies. In India the demand for independence and self-government was growing and the movement for freedom was organized by Mahatma Gandhi through “civil disobedience” and no violent methods. India gained full independence after the second world war in 1947. The social position of women too underwent a radical change after the first world war. Women had taken men’s places in factories during the war and their social role could no longer be underrated. In 1918 women over the age of thirty gained the right to vote, but universal female suffrage was only achieved in 1928. The liberation of women gradually took place; women could now dress more casually, have short hair, smoke and drink, and by so doinig, they acquired more social freedom.