This year marks the centenary of the Treaty of Versailles, the most important of the peace treaties which brought the First World War to a close. The end of formal hostilities is often remembered solely for such peace treaties, without considering the fact that their drafting excluded many active participants in the battles of the preceding four years, now yearning for their own liberation. The Great War was globalised and totalised by the inclusion of colonial subjects, and throughout the Great War the French and British empires were mobilised to aid in the Allied war effort. Such large-scale mobilisation and the ensuing challenges of demobilisation placed tremendous pressure on imperial system and were inadequately addressed through post-war reforms. WWI had released an unprecedented ideological challenge to colonial rule and the spirit of Woodrow Wilson’s idealism pervaded. For colonial subjects, who yet remained subservient to foreign overlords, the Treaty of Versailles held a promise of liberty. As soldiers on the Western Front headed home, domestic resentment continued to grow as the ramifications of the war effort left imperial subjects in the throes of economic depression and unable to administer their own internal day-to-day affairs.
The First World War had been a conflict unlike any which had come before. Industrialization saw the advent of trench warfare and innovation in such forms as U-boats, tanks, and advancements in automated weaponry. Yet for the colonies, the realities of the First World War offered little opportunity for change: least of all political change or more democratic representation. The French clung to their possessions in Algeria and Indochina, whilst the British only tightened their grip on India, Egypt and their white settler Dominions. Yet despite imperial best efforts, the nationalist flame had been lit.
This event will therefore explore the anticolonial upsurge of 1919 and the violent suppression of nationalist challenges during the aftermath of the conflict – a period described Dr James E. Kitchen as characterised by violence and dislocation in the attempts at imposing order and cohesion. An interdisciplinary panel of speakers from King’s College London will consider the 1919 uprisings in Egypt, Ireland, and Malta, and the Amritsar Massacre in India – four events which marked the culmination of national discontent in the wake of the Great War. Thematically, the speakers will explore the notions of nationalism and revolution in those countries excluded from the peace process, and the fraught relationship between colonizer and colonies. With the British Empire teetering on the brink of its own demise, the colonial nations brought it to the precipice: substantive political reform was needed at the highest level, or violence would prove inevitable.
Dr Conor Morrissey – Lecturer in Irish/British History at KCL – to speak about the Irish revolution;
Dr Nick Lloyd – Reader in Military & Imperial History in the Defence Studies Department – to speak about the Amritsar Massacre and the Indian experience;
Dr Neil Ketchley – Lecturer in Middle East Politics in the Department of Political Economy – to speak about the Egyptian uprising;
Ms Hillary Briffa – Doctoral Candidate in the Department of War Studies – to speak about the Sette Giugno uprising in Malta.