Despite high-profile national events, dedicated TV series and extensive media coverage marking the 2014 centenary of the start of the First World War, people in Yorkshire still have a shocking lack of knowledge when it comes to the conflict – with awareness actually decreasing dramatically in the last six years.
Research undertaken by Rotherham-based battlefield experts Leger Holidays shows that one in four people (27 per cent) weren’t even aware that 2014 was the start of the centenary.
Leger undertook research with over 1,000 members of the public asking about their knowledge of the World Wars – a repeat of identical research undertaken in 2014 and 2009 – to see if the start of the centenary had any impact on knowledge of the wars. In all cases it found that general knowledge about the war had surprisingly decreased over the past six years.
Only one in seven people in Yorkshire (14 per cent) were able to identify the main British battlefield in the First World War as Ypres, dropping from 31 per cent in 2009. Eighty one per cent of people could not say what event Armistice Day marks – which is an end to fighting on the Western Front.
Even more worryingly, 210,000 people in Yorkshire (five per cent) claim to have never even heard of the First World War – up from one per cent in 2009. This is despite almost one in 10 being convinced the Third World War has taken place (eight per cent).
According to the Leger research, 43 per cent of people openly admit they don’t really have any knowledge of the First World War – with the Second World War faring slightly better, but still at a concerning 29 per cent.
Paul Reed, Battlefields expert at Leger Holidays, said: “We wanted to repeat the same research that we ran both last year and in 2009 to see if knowledge had improved, particularly since the start of the centenary.
“It’s really concerning that the events and media coverage of last year did nothing to increase awareness with the public. There are no First World War veterans around anymore (despite 60 per cent of people thinking there are), and so it is down to us as later generations to keep those memories alive and to ensure knowledge is passed down and never forgotten.”
The public’s knowledge of the Second World War didn’t fare much better than that of the earlier conflict. Nine out of 10 people don’t know the meaning of the D in D-Day (88 per cent), rising from 57 per cent in 2009. More than half are unsure of when D-Day was (53 per cent) and 50 per cent don’t know we went to war for Poland in 1939.
Those who have limited knowledge of either war were remembering what they’d been taught in school (37 per cent), with 27 per cent getting their information from TV shows and films, 16 per cent from family and 14 per cent from their own reading and research.
Leger Holidays is the leading Battlefield tour providers in the UK, offering more than 40 tours which take in different aspects of the First World War and other conflicts.
And despite a seeming lack of knowledge in the British public, the sales of its Battlefield tours more than doubled in 2014, with people actively wanting to find out more about the great wars.
Paul added: “The research showed eight out of 10 people would be interested in going on a battlefield tour to find out more, so the appetite is there to be more aware of our history.
“It’s just concerning that knowledge is so low. A battlefield tour can help encourage people to want to find out more. There’s nothing like seeing the places where so many fought and fell and hearing the personal stories – maybe finding out where members of your own family would have been.
“Walking in the very footsteps of heroes is a profoundly moving experience, and once you’ve done it you could never imagine wanting the history to be forgotten.”