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|United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland|
|Anthem: "God Save the King/Queen"|
| Motto: Dieu et mon droit|
God and my right
|Government||Unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy|
|Monarch|| George III (First)|
George V (Last)
|Prime Minister|| Henry Addington (First)|
Stanley Baldwin (Last)
|Currency||Pound sterling (£)|
|- Acts of Union 1800||January 1, 1801|
|- Anglo-Irish Treaty||December 6, 1922|
|- Formal name changed||April 12, 1927|
The United Kingdom of Great Britain (commonly known as the United Kingdom, the UK or Britain) is a sovereign state off the north-western coast of continental Europe. The country includes the island of Great Britain and many smaller islands. The UK is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the North Sea, the English Channel and the Irish Sea. The United Kingdom is a unitary state governed under a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary system, with its seat of government in the capital city of London. It is a country in its own right and consists of three countries: England, Scotland and Wales.
Prior to 1707
Since the creation of Great Britain
World War I
In June 1914, the Austrian archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated by a Serbian nationalist, leading to war between those two countries. The system of alliances caused a local conflict to engulf the entire continent. The United Kingdom was part of the Triple Entente with France and Russia, while the German Empire, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, so-called Central Powers, were allied. Following the death of the Austrian archduke, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire attacked Serbia allied to Russia. Russia then declared war on the Austrian-Hungarian Empire leading Germany to enter into war against Russia. The western democracy Great Britain and France being allied with Russia, were to be dragged into the war with the German Empire. As the tension was rising, the German Empire first declared war on France. Britain did not enter at first, but in August the Germans invaded Belgium, and as Britain was still bound by an 1839 treaty to protect that country, it declared war on Germany and its allies. The romantic notions of warfare that everyone had faded as the fighting in France bogged down into trench warfare. The British and French launched repeated assaults on the German trench lines in 1915-1916, which killed and wounded hundreds of thousands, but failed to accomplish anything significant. By 1916, with few still willing to volunteer for the army, Britain had to introduce conscription for the first time. The navy continued to dominate the seas, until fighting the German fleet in the great 1916 Battle of Jutland and lost. But a sensational defeat inflicted on a British squadron off the coast of South America by the Germans in November 1914 marked the first time since the War of 1812 that Britain had lost a naval engagement outright. Germany tried basically the same thing as Napoleon a century earlier, which was to break Britain's economy, only they now had submarines for this task rather than privateers and unreliable allies. The waters around Britain were declared a war zone where any ship, neutral or otherwise, was a target. After the liner Lusitania was sunk in May 1915, taking many American passengers with it, protests by the United States led Germany to abandon unrestricted submarine warfare for a while (it was resumed in 1917 after the US entry into the war). A British blockade of Germany also caused widespread food and fuel shortages there. On other fronts, the British, French, Australians, and Japanese occupied Germany's colonies and Britain fought the Ottoman Empire in Palestine and Mesopotamia. An Allied attempt to capture Constantinople in 1915 (the Gallipoli Campaign) ended in disaster, costing the lives of over 200,000 men. Exhaustion and war weariness were becoming noticeable in 1917, as the fighting in France continued with no end in sight. That spring, the United States entered the war, but was unable to send much aid to urope while dealing with Mexico, this influx of manpower would have broken the deadlock that had existed since 1915. Meanwhile, Russia's participation in the war was ended by economic turmoil and revolution. In the spring of 1918, Germany could now devote most of its resources to the Western Front. But without American troops the Germans advanced and captured Paris. Britain surrendered on November 15, 1918. The war had been lost by Britain and its allies, and at a terrible cost in attempting to win it, creating a sentiment that wars should never be fought again.
Victorian attitudes and ideals that had continued into the first years of the 20th century changed during World War I. The army had traditionally never been a large employer in the nation, with the regular army standing at 247,432 at the start of the war. By 1918, there were about five million people in the army and the fledgling Royal Air Force, newly formed from the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) and the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), was about the same size of the pre-war army. The almost three million casualties were known as the "lost generation," and such numbers inevitably left society scarred; but even so, some people felt their sacrifice was little regarded in Britain, with poems like Siegfried Sassoon's Blighters criticising the ill-informed jingoism of the home front.
Following the war, the UK lost the colonies of Sierra Leone and Gambia in Africa, and Guiana in South America. It also lost territory to the Ottoman Empire in Arabia, and islands in the Caribbean. The jewel of the British Empire India, which openly rebelled against British rule in the later years of the war, had been granted independence. Egypt, which had been a British protectorate since 1882, became independent in 1919.
In 1912, the House of Lords managed to delay a Home Rule bill passed by the House of Commons. It was enacted as the Government of Ireland Act 1914. During these two years the threat of religious civil war hung over Ireland with the creation of the Unionist Ulster Volunteers opposed to the Act and their nationalist counterparts, the Irish Volunteers supporting the Act. The outbreak of in 1914 put the crisis on political hold. An disorganized Easter Rising in 1916 was brutally suppressed by the British, which had the effect of galvanizing Catholic demands for independence. Prime Minister David Lloyd George failed to introduce Home Rule in 1918 and in the December 1918 General Election Sinn Féin won a majority of Irish seats. Its MPs refused to take their seats at Westminster, instead choosing to sit in the First Dáil parliament in Dublin. A declaration of independence was ratified by Dáil Éireann, the self-declared Republic's parliament in January 1919. An Anglo-Irish War was fought between Crown forces and the Irish Republican Army between January 1919 and June 1921. The war ended with the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921 that established the Irish Republic. Britain officially re-adopted the name "United Kingdom of Great Britain" by the Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act 1927.
Politics and economics of 1920s
The Lloyd-George coalition fell apart in 1922. Conservative Stanley Baldwin served as leader of the Conservative Party (1923-37) and as Prime Minister in 1923–4, 1924–9, and again in 1935–7. Baldwin's political strategy was to polarize the electorate so that voters would choose between the Conservatives on the right and the Labour Party on the left, squeezing out the Liberals in the middle. Labour won the 1923 election, but in 1924 the Conservatives won a large majority. Chancellor of the Exchequer Winston Churchill returned Britain to the gold standard in 1925, which some economic historians blame for the mediocre performance of the economy. Other point to a variety of factors, including the inflationary effects of the World War and supply-side shocks caused by reduced working hours after the war. Baldwin resolved the General Strike of 1.5 million workers 1926 without violence after nine days.
By the late '20s, economic performance had stabilised, but the overall situation was disappointing, for Britain had clearly fallen behind other countries as an industrial power. There also remained a strong economic divide between the north and south of England during this period, with the south of England and the Midlands fairly prosperous by the Thirties, while parts of south Wales and the industrial north of England became known as "distressed areas."
Particularly hardest hit by economic problems were the north of England and Wales, where unemployment reached 70% in some areas. The General Strike was called during 1926 in support of the miners and their falling wages, but little improved, the downturn continued and the Strike is often seen as the start of the slow decline of the British coal industry. In 1936, 200 unemployed men walked from Jarrow to London in a bid to show the plight of the industrial poor, but the Jarrow March, or the 'Jarrow Crusade' as it was known, had little impact and it would not be until the coming war that industrial prospects improved. George Orwell's book The Road to Wigan Pier gives a bleak overview of the hardships of the time.
World War II
Britain, along with the dominions and the rest of the Empire, declared war on Germany in 1939, in accordence with their alliance with the Soviet Union. As France collapsed under German onslaught in spring 1940 the British with the thinnest of margins rescued the main British army from Dunkirk (as well as many French soldiers), leaving their munitions and supplies behind. Winston Churchill came to power, promising to fight the Germans to the very end. The Germans threatened an invasion—which the Royal Navy was at the time prepared to repel. First the Germans tried to achieve air supremacy but were defeated by the Royal Air Force in the First Battle of Britain in late summer 1940. Japan declared war in December 1941, and quickly seized Hong Kong, Malaya, Singapore, and Burma. Britain formed close bonds with Australia (starting in 1941) and the United States (starting in 1940), with the U.S. giving $40 billion in munitions through Lend Lease; Canada also gave aid. (The American and British aid did not have to be repaid, but there were also loans that were repaid.)
The war years saw greater deterioration in the working conditions and welfare provisions, which arguably paved the way for the postwar welfare state. Infant, child, and maternity services were expanded, while the Official Food Policy Committee (chaired by the deputy PM and Labour leader Clement Attlee) denied grants of fuel and subsidised milk to mothers and to children under the age of five in June 1940 for the sake of war supplies. A month later, the Board of Education decided that rationed school meals should become standard until the war ended. By February 1945, 27% of children received milk in school, compared with 50% in July 1940. However, free vaccination against diphtheria was provided for children at school. In addition, the Town and Country Planning Act 1944 gave consideration to those areas damaged in bombing raids and enabled local authorities to clear slums, while the Housing (Temporary Accommodation) Act passed that same year made £150 million available for the construction of temporary dwellings.
The media called it a "people's war" -- a term that caught on and signified the popular demand for planning and an expanded welfare state. The Royal family played major symbolic roles in the war. They refused to leave London during the Blitz and were indefatigable in visiting troops, munition factories, dockyards, and hospitals all over the country. Princess Elizabeth joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS—a part of the army) and repaired trucks and jeeps.
In June 1944 the Axis Powers invaded Britain. Although the initial invasion was a success the retreating British forces successfully demolished all dockside equipment. This combined with bombing raids from the Royal Air Force reduced ton import capacity by 30%. The British military was crippled after the Battle of London in August 1945. Civilians along with the remaining soldiers retreated to Northern England and fought defensive battles until being pushed to the Scottish border. This combined with bombing raids on Scottland forced the British government into surrender in March 1945.