This week marks the 100th anniversary of the onset of the First World War, and special events, dedications, tours and exhibitions — many with objects on display for the first time — are planned, from the opening of new World War I galleries at London’s Imperial War Museums and first ever European Peace Walk to a celebratory fundraiser at Highclere Castle, the real-life setting for "Downton Abbey."
“We have a sacred responsibility to remember and commemorate the Great War and those people who served and sacrificed for the common good — on the front lines and the home front,” Matthew C. Naylor, president and chief executive of the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri, told NBC News.
The “war to end all wars,” from 1914 to 1918, resulted in the deaths of more than 9 million soldiers and 7 million civilians, making it one of the deadliest conflicts in human history, according to the museum. The centennial is a time to take meaning, but not just from the horrors of war. “This fundamental catastrophe,” Naylor said, ushered in great social change and laid the groundwork for the advance of democracies in countries around the world, the civil rights and suffragist movements, and set the stage for the U.S. to emerge as a global leader. And many modern day conveniences — the cell phone, air traffic control, portable X-rays, aircraft carriers, pilotless drones — all trace their roots to technology developed during the war.
“We can’t underestimate WWI’s enduring impact,” Naylor said.
The National World War I Museum, designated as the official World War I museum by Congress, offers permanent displays, public programs, lectures, presentations and new exhibitions, like "On the Brink: A Month That Changed the World," which examines the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. “We tell a global story, a complete story, but in an extremely accessible way,” with interactive exhibits and games, colorful uniforms, rare documents and period swords, Naylor said. If you can’t make it to Kansas City, check out the museum’s online exhibition about food called War Fare.
Here are a few highlights from the other side of the Atlantic:
Many exhibitions throughout Vienna commemorate the war years, exploring topics like technology at the Vienna Museum of Technology, media at the Palais Porcia, and city life at the Wien Museum, opening Oct. 16. On view at the newly reopened and expanded displays at the Museum of Military History is the car in which Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo, a month before the war broke out. Through Nov. 2, the Weltmuseum Wien will show thousands of items Ferdinand brought back to Vienna after a 10-month world tour in 1892-93. The text of the exhibition, "Franz is here! Franz Ferdinand's journey around the world," is taken from his published diary, in which he reports impressions, experiences and about his acquaintances with princes, emperors and maharajahs.
In Brussels, the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and of Military History’s "EXPO: 14-18, It's Our History!" focuses on everyday life during the German occupation of Belgium. On Oct. 3, Peace Bridge, a reconstruction of the 1914 pontoon bridge in Antwerp across the River Scheldt near Steen Fortress, will be built by Belgian and Dutch engineer battalions, allowing visitors to follow in the footsteps of the Belgian army and more than 10,000 refugees “who fled a burning city in search of a safe haven.” For the "GoneWest: Coming World Remember Me" sculptural art installation, 600,000 people will participate in workshops from Oct. 14, 2014, to Nov. 11, 2018, to make clay sculptures representing the 600,000 victims who lost their lives in Belgium during the war. For "One Thousand Voices for Peace" on Nov. 9, choirs from Belgium will be joined by choirs from around the world to sing the Oratorio for peace — a new composition.
More than 500 new exhibitions and 1,500 events, including specially commissioned theater and performance pieces, will take place across the country during a four-year cultural program that explores the many ways people coped with the harsh realities of war. On Aug. 3, Highclere Castle in Newbury, the real-life setting for the "Downton Abbey" television series, will host "Heroes at Highclere." The castle was transformed into a hospital during the war, just as it was in the fictional show, aiding patients when they arrived from Flanders. Musical acts, hot air balloon rides, an air show with period aircraft, and a chance to drink traditional Wolrd War I ales, eat food from the era and shop at the vintage fair will be featured. In London, Westminster Abbey will hold a candlelight vigil on Aug. 4, the day England entered the war, with prayers, readings, poetry and music, and candles that go dark one by one. At the recently opened Imperial War Museums’ permanent First World War Galleries, visitors can discover how the war got started, how it was won and its global impact, and view many objects from the museum’s comprehensive collections — from lucky charms made from shell fragments, recruitment posters and huge ship models to diaries and photographs. There’s even a recreated trench with a light and soundscape aimed to evoke what it was like for troops during the changing seasons. At the British Library, Christmas cards, letters, cartoons, and the manuscripts of celebrated war poets are among the items on display in "Enduring War: Grief, Grit and Humour" through Oct. 12.
Top sites and events include: exhibitions at the Museum of the Great War, Pays de Meaux, a day trip from Paris, featuring interactive displays, tanks, planes and a reconstructed battlefield; an air show Sept.12 -14 in Amiens, where the first military planes flew, with demonstrations and model and kite-making workshops; an international cinema festival from Oct. 1 -5, War on Screen, in Châlons-en-Champagne; and on Nov. 11, as part of the international Armistice ceremony, the new International Memorial to Fallen Soldiers will open to pay homage to those who lost their lives on the battlefields of Nord-Pas de Calais.