150 years on – The Battle of Königgrätz, 3 July 1866

Konnigratz
‘The Battery of the Dead’ by Carl Röchling (1855 – 1920). This picture shows the Prussian Guard overrunning Captain August von der Groeben’s so called ‘Battery of the Dead‘ at the Battle of Königgrätz, on the afternoon of 3 July 1866.

This week the military history world has been focused on the centenary commemorations for the start of the Battle of the Somme in July 1916.  Less well commemorated, or as well-known I suspect, is the fact that 3 July 2016 is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Königgrätz (or Sadowa), itself an important and significant event, and the culmination of the short Austro-Prussian War of 1866, a war that would have a crucial role in shaping the Europe we know today.

The Austro-Prussian War, which was also known as the Seven Weeks’ War, was fought between the Austrian Empire and its German allies, and Kingdom of Prussia with its own German allies.  At the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 the German states were grouped in a loose confederation known as the ‘Deutscher Bund‘ and operating under Austrian leadership.  As the nineteenth century progressed the conditions developed for a unification of the German states into a single Germany. Two different views emerged as to what that unification might look like. The first was a ‘Grossdeutschland’ or greater Germany that would see a multi-national empire including Austria. The alternative a ‘Kleindeutschland’ or lesser Germany would exclude Austria and as a result would be dominated by Prussia, the largest and most powerful of the German states, unsurprisingly the latter was the preferred option in Prussia.

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Otto Von Bismarck (1 April 1815 – 30 July 1898) the architect of German Unification. This photograph was taken late in his life and had been beautifully colourised by Marina Amaral.

When Otto von Bismarck became Minister President of Prussia in 1862 he immediately began to develop a strategy for uniting Germany as a ‘Kleindeutschland’ under Prussian rule. He first raised German national consciousness by convincing Austria to join Prussia in the Second Schleswig War.  This swift and brutal conflict put the Danish provinces of Schleswig and Holstein under joint Austrian and Prussian rule. But very quickly after the conclusion of that war Bismarck provoked a further conflict over the administration of the conquered provinces, which resulted in Austria declaring war on Prussia and calling on the armies of the minor German states to join them, in what was ostensibly action by the German Confederation against Prussia to restore Prussia’s obedience to the Confederation.

The main campaign of the war took place in Bohemia (now in the Czech Republic).  The Prussian Chief of the General Staff, Helmuth von Moltke, had decided that the key to success was to ignore the minor German states allied with Austria, and instead concentrate on decisively defeating Austria itself.  He planned the war in meticulous detail, rapidly mobilising the Prussian Army and advanced across the border into Saxony and Bohemia in June 1866 to confront the Austrian Army, which was concentrating for an invasion of Silesia. Moving rapidly, the Prussian forces were divided into three armies: The Army of the Elbe under General Karl Eberhard Herwarth von Bittenfeld, the First Army under Prince Friedrich Karl, and the Second Army under Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm. All were under the nominal command of Prussia’s King Wilhelm I, but in reality operational command sat with von Moltke.  As the armies advanced, each on their own axis, they overcame Austrian attempts to stop them and by 2 July the main Austria Army had been sighted, encamped on high ground between the towns of Königgrätz and Sadowa.

Von Moltke immediately saw the opportunity to encircle the Austrians. He gave orders for Prince Friedrich Karl and the First Army to move forward and in conjunction with the Army of the Elbe to attack the Austrian positions across the Bistritz River the following day, 3 July 1866.  He also ordered the Second Army, at this time some way off to the North East, to move in support with the aim of surrounding the Austrian forces.  

KG Map Morning
The morning’s actions at Königgrätz. Map taken from Gordon A. Craig’s excellent book ‘The Battle of Königgrätz: Prussia’s Victory over Austria, 1866’ (University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 1964.)

Moltke had intended the battle to be a textbook ‘pocket battle’ in which he would encircle and destroy the Austrian Army, but the weather on 3 July almost ruined his plans.  As the First Army and the Army of the Elbe approached they were caught in the heavy rain and arrived wet and exhausted. Meanwhile the Second Army did not reach the field until late afternoon. The Austria commander, Ludwig von Benedek, therefore had the advantage of numerical superiority for much of the day with his 240,000 troops actually only facing 135,000 Prussians. Unfortunately for Austria he did not exploit this advantage.

Bayonet Charge by Prussians at the Battle of Sadowa
An etching showing Prussian infantry charging Austrian troops at bayonet point.

The initial Prussian attacks came from the Army of the Elbe in the West and the First Army in the North West.  In the West the early attacks were successful and the Saxon Army Corps holding this portion of the Austrian defensive line were pushed back.  They withdrew to new defensive positions and once there started to pour heavy fire on the Prussians bringing them to a standstill.  Further north the Prussian forces started well and made good progress and an hour into the battle the town of Sadowa was taken, but soon afterwards the advance began to slow down under heavy Austrian fire. A considerable amount of this was coming from a wooded area called the Sweipwald in which Austrian troops were concealed.  The Prussians attacked and the wood was cleared.  The Austrians counter-attacked but their efforts were uncoordinated and confused allowing the Prussians to decimate the disorientated columns of Austrian infantry moving in and out of the wood.  The Austrian position was not helped by paralysis, indecision and confusion amongst the Austrian command. Benedek stopped an attempt by a subordinate (General Anton von Mollinary) to swing the Austrian Army’s right wing forward to encircle the two Prussian armies at Sadowa before the arrival of the third, losing a valuable opportunity and creating chaos in the field.

KG Map Afternoon
The afternoon’s actions at Königgrätz. Map taken from Gordon A. Craig’s excellent book ‘The Battle of Königgrätz: Prussia’s Victory over Austria, 1866’ (University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 1964.)

Aided by Benedek’s inaction, Moltke had time to wait for the arrival of the Prussian Second Army which he was finally able to commit late in the afternoon and it struck Benedek’s weak right flank.  With the assault now on all sides the Austrian Army began to disintegrate.  Gallant but futile rearguard actions took place to slow the Prussian advance.  One lone horse artillery battery, under the command of Captain August von der Groeben, tried to stem the Prussian advance. Its desperate salvos were answered with crippling Prussian fire from all sides and within five minutes Groeben, 53 men and 68 horses were all dead. This was followed by the Austrian cavalry which charged into the pursuing Prussians.  For half an hour the they succeeded in holding the Prussian cavalry and pushing their infantry back, which, combined with the continuing Austrian artillery fire, convinced Von Moltke that he may had underestimated Benedek.  With his reserves of infantry and cavalry stuck on muddy approach roads behind the lines, Moltke did not have the resources to complete the encirclement at Königgrätz and stopped the pursuit. The Austrian cavalry broke off at this point and the battle ended at 9pm.

Königgrätz - Hunten
‘Battle of Königgrätz 1866’ by Emil Hünten (1827-1902) The picture depicts King Wilhelm I awarding his son, the Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm, the Order Pour le Mérite after the Prussian victory under Chief of Staff Helmuth von Moltke, who can be seen on the left side. © Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin

Most of Benedek’s army escaped across the Elbe in the night, but the Austrian losses were high – 44,000 men in the course of the day, compared with Prussian losses of just 9,000. The Austrian Army that retreated to Vienna was very weakened and the Austrian emperor had no option but to agree to an armistice on 22 July 1866, and three weeks later sued for peace. Bismarck used the victory to further his ambitions, abolishing the German Confederation and forming the North German Federation that excluded Austria and her allies in Germany. Its position as the dominant power in continental Europe was confirmed five years later with an emphatic victory in the Franco-Prussian War and the resulting unification into a united Germany.

Today Königgrätz is a fascinating battlefield to visit.  Situated 125km to the East of Prague in the Czech Republic, it is about an hour and a half drive from the centre of the Czech capital.  The battlefield is relatively undeveloped and one can very quickly gain an understanding of the terrain and the flow of the battle. There is a small museum and visitor centre that provides useful orientation and an observation tower.  These are both located together just outside the village of Chlum, right at the heart of the battlefield and on its highest spot. The tower affords panoramic views of the area and from which one can appreciate the scale of the battle and the influence of the terrain.

Panorama Lookimh East
A panoramic view from the Chlum observation tower looking East.  In the foreground is the museum and visitor centre.  In the centre, on the right edge of the woods, is the memorial to the ‘Battery of the Dead‘.  The attack of the Prussian Second Army swept in from the left hand edge of this view.

The actions of many regiments and individuals are marked with memorials across the battlefield.  These include a monument erected at the location where Captain August von der Groeben and his ‘Battery of the Dead‘ conducted their heroic but doomed rearguard action.

Dead Memorial
The Battery of The Dead Memorial unveiled in October 1893. Captain von der Groeben and his horse battery of eight Groeben’s guns were placed North-West of Chlum facing the Sweipwald. In mid-afternoon of 3 July 1866 the battery tried to hold off a flanking attack by the Prussian guards before rapid and heavy fire silenced the guns. Groeben, 53 other officers and men, and 68 horses were killed. 

The Sweipwald is full of memorials to both sides, placed here both by regiments in memory of fallen comrades and families for loved one.  As one walks through the woods it is easy to envisage how this part of the field became a bloody killing ground as the combat ebbed and flowed. But today it is peaceful and serene, and judging by my experience very little visited, as we were the only people in the woods on a fine July afternoon last year!

Sweipwald Memorials
Some of the many monuments and memorials in the now tranquil Sweipwald.

The impact of this battle was felt long after it finished.  Bismarck’s vision of a dominant and imperial Germany of course came to fruition, and ultimately led to Germany’s role in helping to start the First World War, the legacy of which had a continuing impact throughout the subsequent history of the twentieth century.  It is perhaps worth reflecting on what might have happened had there been an Austrian victory on 3 July 1866.  Would it have resulted in a ‘Grossdeutschland’ that would have joined the German states in a less aggressive and less martial multi-national Empire, leading to a more peaceful Europe and avoiding the two world wars of the twentieth century?  This is of course speculation but what is very clear is how important this short war, and the little known battle of Königgrätz were in actually shaping the European history we know today.

The battle that began the shaping of modern Europe

Danish 8th Brigade at the Battle of Dybbøl 1864 V2
The Danish 8th Brigade about to charge at the Battle of Dybbøl 18 April 1864 by Vilhelm Rosenstand

One hundred and fifty two years ago this week a battle was fought that brought to an end a month-long siege, and ultimately led to the end of a short and brutal war, the consequences of which were to have a profound impact on the future of Europe.  Indeed it could be argued that consequences of this little war were still being felt a hundred years later at the height of the Cold War.  The war in question was the Second Schleswig War (or Danish-Prussian War) of 1864, and the siege that of Dybbøl (2 – 18 April 1864).

I only became aware of this little war and the siege of Dybbøl a couple of years ago when I was researching the Austro-Prussian War and the Battle of Koniggratz (3 July 1866) ahead of a visit to the Czech Republic. I read Quintin Barry’s excellent book The Road to Koniggratz: Helmuth Von Moltke and the Austro-Prussian War 1866 in which he covers both the Second Schleswig War and the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 in great detail. For a variety of reasons including the comparisons between these wars and my favourite period of military history, the American Civil War, I delved deeper and the more I looked the more I was intrigued.

The Second Schleswig War was the first of the three wars of German Unification, the others being the Austro-Prussian (or Seven Weeks War) of 1866 and the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. These together led to the formation of a strong and unified Germany in 1871.  A Germany which would then arguably become the central and dominant force in the shaping of modern Europe.

When the Second Schleswig War began in late 1863 to many it was just the latest episode in an ongoing issue known as the ‘Schleswig Holstein Question’. In his 1921 book Queen Victoria the British biographer Lytton Strachey referred to the situation as:

“…the dreadful Schleswig-Holstein question—the most complex in the whole diplomatic history of Europe…”

Whilst the great British statesman Lord Palmerston is alleged to have said:

“The Schleswig-Holstein question is so complicated, only three men in Europe have ever understood it. One was Prince Albert, who is dead. The second was a German professor who became mad. I am the third and I have forgotten all about it.”

Jutland_Peninsula_map
The Jutland Peninsula showing the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein, the Danevirke and Dybbøl. – commons.wikipedia.org

The spark for this episode came just after the accession of King Christian IX to the throne of Denmark and, as was custom, his simultaneously becoming Duke of Schleswig and Holstein. Shortly after acceding to the throne he was persuaded by the Danish Parliament to sign a new Danish constitution (the so called November Constitution) that stated that the Duchy of Schleswig was part of Denmark.  This put Denmark squarely in conflict with the German Confederation who saw this as a breach of the London Protocol of 1852 that decreed that the Kingdom of Denmark and the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein would remain separate entities. Despite diplomatic efforts to reverse the constitutional changes no progress was made and on the instructions of Prussian Minister President, Otto von Bismarck, a combined Prussian and Austrian force crossed the border into Schleswig on 1 February 1864 with the intent of occupying the duchy and restoring its separation from Denmark.

Ahead of the invasion the Danish Army had taken up defensive positions along an ancient earthwork called the Danevirke.

Danevirke
A period view of the Danevirke drawn in 1863 – ©Rigsarkivet – Danish National Archives

But this position was untenable and therefore on 5 February 1864, just before they were about to be outflanked by the German forces, the Danes withdraw to new positions further north.  The army split into two smaller forces with one deploying to the northern end of the Jutland, whilst the other was ordered east to occupy the defensive forts on the peninsula opposite Sønderborg in the area of Dybbøl. The withdrawal was a miserable affair conducted through February blizzards, but in four days the larger part of the Danish Army was in its new defensive line at Dybbøl.

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The Danish withdrawal from the Danevirke. ©1864.dk

It is worth highlighting at this point that the German Confederation Forces had a significant technological advantage.  The Prussian forces, but not the Austrians, had adopted the next generation of rifle.  The Dreyse needle gun, one of the first breech loading bolt-action rifles to be used in combat, was introduced to the Prussian Army from 1848. The rifle allowed a soldier to fire five or more shots a minute from the prone position and not have to stand up to reload, therefore reducing the exposure to enemy fire.  In contrast the Danes were armed with muzzle-loading rifle that had to be reloaded in a vulnerable standing position and could probably only manage two shots a minute.  The Prussian were also superior to the Danes in artillery.  The Danes used old smooth bore cannon, whilst the Prussians had rifled artillery capable of much greater range.  

On arriving in the Dybbøl positions, work was immediately undertaken to reinforce the existing fortifications which, as can be seen from the map below, were extensive and effectively sealed off the peninsula opposite Sønderborg.  Fortunately for the Danes their surprise withdrawal had caught the Prussians off-guard and their follow up was somewhat tardy. But by mid-March the Prussians had decided that the Dybbøl position was to be their main effort and siege artillery was moved forward to start the bombardment of the Danish positions. At the same time they started to invest the position by digging their own entrenchments.  At the end of March an ambitious amphibious operation was planned and prepared, with the aim of taking the Danish fortifications from the rear, but this was called off at the last moment due to storms. Instead at the start of April the Prussians began to use their superiority in artillery to bombard the Danish positions, and at the same time began to dig forward from their own lines towards the Danish forts.

Dybbol Large
The Battle of Dybbøl 18 April 1864 ©Rigsarkivet – Danish National Archives

This parallel set of activities continued for over two weeks until the Prussian trenches were as close as possible to the Danish lines and the Danish troops had been worn down by an almost constant bombardment, during which it is estimated that about 65,000 shells were fired at the fortifications.  On 16 April 1864 the Prussians had almost 40,000 troops in the lines opposite the Danish positions and 10,000 were readied to be the first assault wave of an attack scheduled for 18 April.

At about 4am on 18 April 1864 a massive and intense bombardment of the Danish forts was launched which lasted for six hours.  Then at 10am the bombardment ceased and assault troops who had been moved forward t0 the Prussian front line trenches charged towards the Danish lines, in an attack that presaged the First World War some fifty years later.

The Prussians outnumbered the Danish troops in the frontline trenches and redoubts by two to one, and by 10.22am the forts were captured.  British Special Correspondent Edward Dicey who was covering the war for the Daily Telegraph was in a position to watch the Prussians force the Danes out of the fortifications and in his book on the war he reported:

‘I took my post of observation on a ridge commanding a full view of Dybbøl Hill. The facts that I have mentioned were not known to me then. All I could tell was that things were going badly for the besieged. The brow of the hill was lined with dark masses of troops too close and too serried to belong to the Danes. With my fieldglass I could see the Prussian flag waving gaily from the heights; and it was clear, from the crowds of soldiers standing on the bastions of Fort No. 4, that there, at least, the fighting had ceased. Along the broad, bare, shelter less roads, leading from the brow of the hill to the bridges, dark lines of infantry were retreating hastily, and their columns were raked constantly by shells thrown from the field batteries, which the Prussians were bringing up with all speed to the line of Dybbøl . It looked to me, standing there, as if their own guns had been turned against the Danes, but this I believe was not the case, as very few of those guns were left in a state to fire at all, and those few were spiked before the Prussians could enter. Meanwhile, the scene itself, apart from the interest of the struggle, had about it a strange beauty.’ [Edward Dicey, The Schleswig Holstein War, London, 1864]

Sturm_auf_die_Düppeler_Schanze_1864
A German wood cut illustration of Prussian troops storming the fortifications at Dybbøl.

In a vain attempt to retake the position the Danish reserve, the 8th Brigade, was launched in a counter attack at about 10.30am but this was to no avail and a full scale Danish retreat ensued.  The demoralised Danes streamed east to bridges over the Alsen Sound and back into Sønderborg.  At the end of this short and sharp battle the Prussian casualties amounted to 257 killed and about 950 wounded, whilst Danish casualties were 671 dead, 987 wounded and 3,131 prisoners.  This was a decisive victory for the Austro-Prussian forces.  

The war continued on until July 1864 during which time the Prussians and Austrians eventually gained control over the whole of the Jutland peninsula.  At the same time a peace conference was convened in London and managed to broker a short-lived ceasefire in May 1864. Ultimately once the German Confederation troops occupied all of Jutland the Danes were forced to come back to the negotiating table.  The final outcome of the war was a clear victory for the combined armies of Prussia and Austria. The prize for the two countries was control of the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein which was agreed in the Treaty of Vienna, signed on 30 October 1864.

The details of how this war led inexorably to the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 is a story for another day.  Suffice to say that the occupation of the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein by Prussian and Austrian forces was not a comfortable arrangement and enabled the arch manipulator, Bismarck, to engineer the second of the Wars of German Unification, and put in place the next step in the unification process.

For many years this little battle at Dybbøl, and indeed this small war, had been largely overlooked in the military history of Europe.  However, I suspect that the publication in 2015 of an English translation of Tom Buk-Swienty’s excellent book ‘1864: The forgotten war that shaped modern Europe‘ has gone some way renew interest in the subject. In addition the associated, and well produced, 2014 television series ‘1864’, which tells the story of the war through the eyes of some of its participants has also helped to make the story accessible to a wider audience.  I thoroughly recommend both the book and the series, and a trailer for this series is included below.

Today the forts are preserved and a museum has been built in one to tell the story of the  war and its battles.  I have to admit that I have not yet been able to visit but hope to do so at some point.  If there are any readers who have, perhaps you would like to comment below.

Düppeler_schanze_center
Dybbøl Museum and Memorial – ©Arne List

The Siege of Dybbøl, and the final battle to take it, are small in scale when compared to many other battles that dominate the military history of Europe.  However, as the crucial point in the Second Schleswig War, a war which started the process of German Unification and inexorably led to Germany playing a central position in the 20th Century’s bloody history, it deserves to be better known than it is.

The First World War: A view from the other side

Austrian Uniforms
A painting of Austrian First World War soldiers by Fritz Schwarz-Waldegg, on display in Vienna’s Heeresgeschichtliches (Military History) Museum

In late 2014 I took a trip to Vienna, and as I do wherever I travel, I sought out interesting historic sites and museums to visit.  Now anyone who has been to Vienna will know that it is steeped in history. However, as it was the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War I sought out two locations with relevant exhibitions.

The first was the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum or Military Museum. Located in the centre of the old Arsenal complex, according to the museum’s website it:

‘…was built according to plans of Ludwig Foerster and Theophil Hansen from 1850 to 1856 and was thus the first Viennese museum. The styles of this town’s oldest historic building range from Byzantine, Hispano-Moorish to Neo-Gothic building…’

This description does not really do the building justice. It is a huge and ornate temple to Austrian military achievement, as can be seen in the picture below.

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Vienna’s Heeresgeschichtliches (Military History) Museum

The museum tells the history of Austria’s Armed Forces. From the heady days of the Wars of the Spanish Succession, the defeat of the Ottoman Empire and the Napoleonic Wars, through the decline of Austrian military power with the rise of Prussia and a unified Germany, the First World War and ultimately to the end of the Second World War.

I first visited this museum in the early 1990s when, it is fair to say, the whole place was looking very tired and in need of a major make-over.  But arriving at the First World War exhibition in 2014 it was very clear that, at least in this area, there had been a major refurbishment, presumably to tie in with the centenary.

The opening elements of the First World War exhibition have been in the museum for a long time and, as twenty years previously, the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end as I pondered the importance of the artefacts. On one side a bullet marked car, on the other, neatly laid out in a case, a blood stained blue tunic (see picture below) worn by one of the car’s passenger on 28 June 1914. These of course belonged to the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria whose assassination on streets of Sarajevo on that summer’s day led to the chain of events that started the First World War. Since my last visit these have been displayed better, with improved interpretation, and set the scene well for the new First World War gallery.

Franz Ferdinand Jacket
Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s bloodstained tunic on display in Vienna’s Heeresgeschichtliches (Military History) Museum

The new gallery is impressive. One enters at ground level and descends to a lower level following a chronological route around the exhibition. The content is well displayed and interpreted, with both German and English text. The artefacts range from uniforms and weapons, to aircraft and artillery pieces. The larger artefacts are first glimpsed from below as one transits the lower gallery, then climbing up a level are seen again from a different angle (see picture below), all adding to the quality of the experience. Reflecting on my visit it was a very engaging, educational and entertaining exhibition, but also had something that made it seem very familiar.  But more of that later…

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The First World War Gallery in Vienna’s Heeresgeschichtliches (Military History) Museum

The second museum I visited was the Vienna Museum, situated next to the beautiful and famous Karlskirche.  It tells the story of the city of Vienna and, clearly timed to coincide with the centenary of the First World War, was hosting a small exhibition called World War I in Vienna: City Life in Photography and Graphic Art.  As the title suggests the exhibition showed images of Vienna during the War.  As I explored the exhibition, the images, whilst new and previously unseen by my eyes, also had a welcoming familiarity to them. The euphoria of the early days of the war with captured in photographs showing columns of soldiers heading to the front flags waving and faces smiling, as wives and sweethearts cheered them off.  These were then replaced with images showing the reality of war.  Wounded soldiers returning home, the ‘home front’ with women replacing men on essential work (as seen in the image below) and fund raising schemes to fuel the war. This exhibition was simple in execution but powerful in impact, and left a strong impression.

Di Frau im Kriege
‘Die Frau im Kriege’, an image of an Austrian woman doing war work.

Reflecting on both museums, I have used the word familiar to describe their content.  I know that I should not have been surprised, but what I saw made me think.  The stories in these museums, especially the people stories, are no different to those being told in museums and heritage sites all over the United Kingdom, only in this case they had a different (Austrian) perspective. These two museums approached the First World War from the Austrian point of view, in the very same way as British museums have largely taken a very British slant on the War.

In the last couple of years many World War One exhibitions have been developed within British museums, most undoubtedly driven by the centenary.  The overarching theme in these has been the commemoration of this monumental punctuation mark in modern history, but almost all portray a predominantly British view of the war. Whether it is the Imperial War Museum’s truly stunning new galleries, or one of a range of regimental museums or city and town museums hosting special exhibitions, the overwhelming impression is the experience and fate of the British Tommy in the trenches, and/or the ‘Home Front’ in Britain.

On the surface a British museum taking a distinctly British perspective is perhaps unsurprising, but I think there is a little more to this.  After all we live in a world where globalisation is the watchword.  So why are these exhibitions taking such a United Kingdom centric view?  I do not think it is because of any form of ‘we won the war’ jingoism.  I think is much more to do with how museums and heritage sites engage with their audiences, particularly now as the First World War becomes a more and more distant memory.

The commemoration of the centenary has reawakened an interest in the First World War.  With no veterans now alive, and therefore no living reference points, museum exhibition designers are having to find new hooks to engage audiences.  One of the most accessible, and commonly used, hooks is the ‘..what did your ancestors/the locals from this area do in the war…’ approach.  Exhibitions of this type are therefore anchored on the stories of those who marched away, many not to return, and the impact of this on the local area. This approach helps visitors engage with, and learn from, the subject matter from a familiar point of entry.  The museums in Vienna do exactly the same from an Austrian perspective.

However, it is incumbent upon historians, museums, battlefield guides, teachers and anyone else involved in passing on these stories, to remember and remind visitors, that in war there are always at least two sides.  We must not lose sight of this, but also that the issues, experiences, and impact of war are often very similar regardless of which side you are on.  Thus to look at, and engage with these subjects, from the perspective of ‘the other side’ can only add to our understanding. Visiting other nations museums, like the ones I have highlighted here, helps to ensure that we don’t forget to reflect on the other side’s stories which, when we look at them in detail, may well be very similar to our own.