The First World War 1914-1918

War and neutrality

From 1914 to 1918 the “Great War” raged in Europe. The war did have consequences for the Netherlands, but the country was spared its horrors. In World War I, the Central Powers (Germany, Austria and Turkey) were opposed by the Allies (France, Great Britain and Russia). However, what it actually came down to was the soldiers of the two sides facing one another along kilometres of trenches. When shooting broke out, the soldiers could do little else than take cover from the exploding shells and hope for the best. They were even more powerless when they had to attack the enemy. As soon as they went over the top of the trenches, they were mowed down by the machine guns of the other side. The use of poison gas was something new in this war. Ultimately the war cost millions of lives. When the United States joined the Allies in 1917, the balance was tipped in the Allies’ favour. In November of the following year the Central Powers surrendered.

During the war, the Netherlands had remained neutral, something that had been a principle of Dutch foreign politics for some time. The Dutch army was, however, mobilised to defend its own territory. Furthermore, the Netherlands had to deal with the peripheral effects of the war. Large numbers of Belgian refugees had to be taken in, in temporary camps, among other places. Unemployment rose due to the fall in international trade and the sinking (by torpedoes) of many merchant vessels. Food became scarce and rationing was introduced. In 1917 and 1918, despairing housewives plundered food stocks in Amsterdam and Rotterdam.

Many European countries experienced the upheaval of revolution during or after the war. In Russia, the Tsar was forced from the throne and executed, and the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires were replaced by republics. In the Netherlands, radical political changes were implemented during the war. In 1917 all men were granted the right to vote. After the war, in 1919, this was followed by universal suffrage for women. From 1919 onwards, the Netherlands was a fully democratic country: every adult man and woman had the right to vote in elections.

  • circa 3000 BC Megalithic tombs Early farmers  
  • 47 A.D.-circa 400 A.D. The Roman Limes On the frontiers of the Roman world  
  • 658 A.D.-739 A.D. Willibrord The spread of Christianity  
  • 742 A.D. – 814 A.D. Charlemagne Emperor of the Land of the Setting Sun  
  • circa 1100 Hebban olla vogala The Dutch language in writing  
  • 1254-1296 Floris V A Dutch count and disgruntled nobles  
  • 1356-circa 1450 The Hanseatic League Trading towns in the Low Countries  
  • 1469?-1536 Erasmus An international humanist  
  • 1500-1558 Charles V The Low Countries as an administrative unity  
  • 1566 The “Beeldenstorm” (iconoclastic outbreak) Religious conflict  
  • 1533-1584 William of Orange From rebel nobleman to “father of the country”  
  • 1588-1795 The Republic A unique political phenomenon  
  • 1602-1799 The Dutch East India Company (VOC) Overseas expansion  
  • 1612 The Beemster Polder The Netherlands and water  
  • 1613-1662 The canal ring Urban development in the seventeenth century  
  • 1583-1645 Hugo Grotius Pioneer of modern international law  
  • 1637 The Statenbijbel (authorised version of the Bible) The Book of Books  
  • 1606?-1669 Rembrandt The great painters  
  • 1662 Blaeu’s Atlas Major Mapping the world  
  • 1607-1676 Michiel de Ruyter Heroes of the sea and the wide reach of the Republic  
  • 1629-1695 Christiaan Huygens Science in the Golden Age  
  • 1632-1677 Spinoza In search of truth  
  • circa 1637-1863 Slavery Human trafficking and forced labour in the New World  
  • 17th and 18th centuries Country mansions Prosperous living  
  • 1744-1828 Eise Eisinga The Enlightenment in the Netherlands  
  • 1780-1795 The patriots Political conflict about modernising the Republic  
  • 1769-1821 Napoleon Bonaparte The French period  
  • 1772-1843 King William I The kingdom of the Netherlands and Belgium  
  • 1839 The first railway Acceleration  
  • 1848 The Constitution Fundamental rules and principles of government  
  • 1860 Max Havelaar Scandal in the East Indies  
  • 19th century Opposition to child labour Out of the workplace and back to school  
  • 1853-1890 Vincent van Gogh The modern artist  
  • 1854-1929 Aletta Jacobs The emancipation of women  
  • 1914-1918 The First World War War and neutrality  
  • 1917-1931 De Stijl Revolution in design  
  • 1929-1940 The crisis years Society in the depression  
  • 1940-1945 World War II Occupation and liberation  
  • 1929-1945 Anne Frank The persecution of the Jews  
  • 1945-1949 Indonesia A colony fights for freedom  
  • 1886-1988 Willem Drees The welfare state  
  • 1 February 1953 The great flood The danger of water  
  • since 1948 Television The rise of mass media  
  • since circa 1880 The port of Rotterdam Gateway to the world  
  • 1911-1995 Annie M.G. Schmidt Going against the grain of a bourgeois country  
  • since 1945 Surinam and the Netherlands Antilles Decolonisation in the West  
  • 1995 Srebrenica The dilemmas of peacekeeping  
  • since 1945 Diversity in the Netherlands The multicultural society  
  • 1959-2030? The natural gas deposit A finite treasure  
  • since 1945 Europe The Dutch and Europeans  
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