During a visit to Serbia, which was a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire at the time on June 28, 1914, the heir to the empire Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were shot dead.
The United Kingdom’s National Archives state the assassination was the ultimate cause of the war, however manoeuvring in the lead-up to World War One actually began with Germany aligning with Austro-Hungary in 1879 and an alliance formed between France and Russia in 1892.
By 1907, Italy and a reluctant Britain had been drawn into the power-play.
Franz Ferdinand’s killing was perpetrated by Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian agitating for secession from the empire to join other Slavic countries to make Yugoslavia.
Princip was working with five other conspirators co-ordinated by secret society The Black Hand.
The shooting followed an unsuccessful attempt to blow up the Archduke’s car as it transported the pair through the streets of Sarajevo.
Australia joins the war
Official histories of Australia’s entry into the war show leaders were under political pressure to support Britain before war was declared with Germany on August 4, 1914.
British dominion countries Canada and New Zealand had promised forces to back Britain.
Australia was in the lead-up to a double-dissolution election on September 5, 1914.
Defence minister Edward Millen said in Sydney on July 31 that Australia would be “no fair-weather friend” of the British Empire, effectively joining the war.
Labor leader Andrew Fisher, vying for Liberal prime minister Joseph Cook’s job, hastily added his support for joining the war at a stumps speech in Colac, Victoria.
Fisher won the 1914 election and Australian troops left for war in November after a naval expeditionary force destroyed German bases in New Guinea in August.
The Gallipoli landings
After training outside Cairo for four months, Australian and New Zealand “Anzac” forces were transported by ship with British and French troops to mount an attack on the Turkish Gallipoli peninsula, about 290km south-west of Istanbul, then Constantinople.
Their Cairo placement was “fortuitous” as they were in place for Britain to open up a second front in the war at Russia’s urgent request in January 1915, Australian war records show.
The 15,000 troops landed at 6am April 25, 1915 and, facing a steep wall of terrain, made early gains only to be forced back to the beach under machine gun fire.
Turkish commander Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, a future reformist secular leader of Turkey, sent the entire 19th division to fight off the invading forces.
After 8700 Australians and 2700 New Zealanders had died, it was decided that the battle was a stalemate: “The most successful operation of the campaign was the evacuation of troops on 19 and 20 December,” the Australian War Memorial history states.
Our worst 24 hours
Australian Infantry was separated into five divisions after Gallipoli and in March 1916 they were moved to France to battle in Fromelles.
Trench warfare at that time favoured defence, the Australian War Memorial history states, and AIF troops learned this lesson on the enormous Western Front, which stretched from the English Channel in Belgium to the Swiss Border.
In July 1916 Australian infantry suffered its heaviest losses over 24 hours at Fromelles where 5533 died.
By the end of the year, 40,000 Australians would have been killed or wounded on the western front. Australia’s population at the time was less than 5 million.
Mobile war in the Middle East
A separate division of Australian mounted troops had been kept in the Middle East after Gallipoli.
They fought a mobile war in open desert that was distinct from the stalemate of the western front, both in the troops’ ability to progress and their lack of water.
Casualties were comparatively light, with 1394 killed over three years from 1916 to 1918.
As part of an allied force aimed at protecting access to the Suez Canal, Australians took the Sinai peninsula, then Palestine, Gaza and Jerusalem on December 30, 1917.
They continued into Lebanon and Syria before on October 30, 1918 Turkey sued for peace.
Bulgaria was the first to sue for peace on September 29, 1918. Armistice day commemorates the German surrender on November 11.
The war claimed about 17 million lives, and the toll on Australia was more than 60,000.
A further 156,000 were wounded, gassed or taken prisoner.
More than 14 per cent of Australia’s 416,809 troops died in the war and more than 37 per cent were wounded – 52 per cent of AIF troops were killed, wounded, gassed or taken prisoner.
Peace was sealed with the Treaty of Versaille on June 28, 1919, a document that officially blamed Germany for starting the war and forced it to pay reparations to countries it attacked. The burgeoning colonial power lost its overseas colonies and territory to its east and west.