Britain has 67 million people. It comprises of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Although a small population by world comparison and located in two isolated islands in the north-west – for around two centuries, between 1763 and 1942, Britain was the sole superpower of the world. The enormous growth in British overseas trade from 1600s, protected by their Royal Navy, paved the way for the establishment of the British Empire. Domestically, the overseas trade drove the Industrial Revolution between 1760 and 1840, which was a period of profound change in the socioeconomic and cultural conditions of Britain, resulting in ‘industrialised agriculture, manufacturing, engineering and mining’, as well as new and pioneering road, rail and water networks. This in turn facilitated Britain’s overseas expansion and development of their empire. Many significant inventions took place during this period. The British capital London became the largest and most populous metropolitan area in the world. And the British military and navy became the most powerful whilst the British controlled a quarter of the world’s population. Cracks began to appear in their colonial power from uprisings by independent movements of indigenous populations, and the British empire began to disintegrate in early 1900s. Following the end of World War Two in 1945, the British empire experienced rapid decolonisation. In comparison with other colonial powers of the day being ‘the French, the Dutch and the Spanish’, the British made attempts to leave the countries they had overpowered in a good condition. The Commonwealth was formed and the countries that received independence from Britain could choose to join it. The British law or legal system, developed over the centuries, became the basis of common law legal systems used in most Commonwealth countries and USA. In essence, British common law is made by judges sitting in courts, applying their common sense and knowledge of legal precedent to the facts before them. The English language is spoken by hundreds of millions of people in the world and is the world’s unofficial ‘common language’ which makes communication possible between people of various groups. Although no longer the world superpower, Britain’s economy remains one of the largest and most dynamic in the world, with an average GDP per capita of US$42,300. In 1942, Britain lost the superpower status to USA.

  1. In about 2,000 words, I will describe major events that affected Britain from 1900 to the present.
  2. 1900 – Britain has 30 million people.
  3. 1901 – The Australian Constitution was passed by the British Parliament that enabled the six British colonies in Australia to become one nation on 1 January 1901 – a self-governing Dominion. The new nation was sovereign when it came to its domestic affairs, but Britain maintained control over its relations with the wider world.
  4. 1901 – Queen Victoria of Britain (British colonialism grew most under her reign) dies and is succeeded by her eldest son King Edward VII.
  5. 1902 – Britain defeats Dutch settlers in the Boer War in South Africa. The Boers, also known as Afrikaners, were the descendants of the original Dutch settlers of southern Africa. The Boers had rejected an offer of peace from the British in March 1901, in part because it required that the Boers recognize the British annexation of their republics. Fighting continued until the Boers finally accepted the loss of their independence.
  6. 1904 – Rolls Royce founded.
  7. 1907 – New Zealand becomes a Dominion (changed from a colony).
  8. 1907 – Boy Scouts Movement founded.
  9. 1908 – South Africa becomes a self-governing Dominion.
  10. 1908 – Olympic Games opens in London.
  11. 1910 – King Edward VII dies and is succeeded by his son King George V.
  12. 1912 – The ship Titanic (world’s biggest leisure ship at the time) sinks after hitting an iceberg, with the loss of 1,503 lives.
  13. 1914 – (to 1918) World War One. Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia in July 1914, resulting in Serbia’s ally Russia mobilising its army. Austria-Hungary’s ally, Germany, in turn declared war on Russia. Russia’s alliance with France now threatened Germany with war on two fronts. Germany acted to quickly neutralise France by a well-planned surprise invasion through neutral Belgium. Britain, as guarantor of Belgian neutrality, told Germany to withdraw. The ultimatum expired, so on 4 August 1914 Britain declares war. Britain also declares war on the Ottoman Empire in Turkey (Germany had formed an alliance with the Ottoman Empire).
  14. 1915 – Gallipoli Campaign. A combined force of British, Australian, New Zealand and French colonial troops were unable to break out of their beachheads in Turkey and the campaign ultimately ended in defeat, with all troops evacuated by the end of the year.
  15. 1916 – Nationalists in Ireland, supplied with German rifles, rebelled at Easter and seized key buildings in Dublin, including the post office where their final stand was made. Most of the population was unsupportive and the rebellion was crushed within a week. The British executed the leaders, inadvertently making martyrs of the rebels and inspiring those who followed.
  16. 1917 – By sinking all merchant ships, regardless of nationality, the Germans hoped to starve the British into submission in six months. The Germans failed and the campaign prompted USA, the principal neutral power, to declare war on Germany on 6 April 1917.
  17. 1918 – With the Ottoman army in retreat, the Turks opened negotiations to surrender.     
  18. 1918 – World War One ends when Germany signs an armistice. 886,000 British military personnel died during the war.
  19. 1918 – (to 1919) ‘Spanish flu’ pandemic killed more than 200,000 people in Britain and up to 50 million worldwide. Despite its name, the virus seems to have originated in USA, but quickly spread around the world, infecting up to 30% of the world’s population.
  20. 1919 – Seventy delegates representing the 32 allied and associated powers met to decide on peace treaties following the end of World War One. In reality, the treaties were mainly the work of the British, French, Italian and USA leaders. One of the treaties prepared at the conference, the Treaty of Versailles, imposed harsh reparations on Germany, and is widely considered to have contributed to the eventual outbreak of World War Two.
  21. 1919 – The Rowlatt Act extended wartime ’emergency measures’ in India, such as detention without trial. Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi of the Indian Congress Party asked Indians to use non-violent civil disobedience in protest against the Act, and to refuse to cooperate with the British government.
  22. 1919 – In India, a large crowd attending a Sikh religious festival in defiance of British martial law was fired on without warning by troops under the command of Brigadier General Reginald Dyer. More than 300 people were killed. The ‘Amritsar Massacre’ crystallised growing Indian discontent with British rule, which was only heightened when Dyer faced no other punishment than an official censure. Led by Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian Congress Party now becomes a nationwide movement committed to independence.
  23. 1920 – The League of Nations (headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland) whose principal mission was to maintain world peace was founded.
  24. 1919 – (to 1921) The Irish War of Independence (Anglo-Irish War) – war took place between Irish Republican Army and British forces.  
  25. 1920 – First public demonstration of the television takes place in Britain.
  26. 1921 – The three former Ottoman (Turk) provinces of ‘Baghdad, Basra and Mosul’, is named Iraq by the British.
  27. 1922 – (to 1924) The Irish Civil War. A conflict that followed the Irish War of Independence and established the Irish Free State, an entity independent from the United Kingdom but within the British Empire.
  28. 1925 – In his first budget as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Winston Churchill returned Britain to its pre-1914 monetary system, whereby sterling was fixed at a price reflecting the country’s gold reserves. The move resulted in massive deflation and overvaluing of the pound. It made British manufacturing industries uncompetitive, which in turn exacerbated the massive economic problems Britain was to face in the 1930s.     
  29. 1927 – British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is created.
  30. 1928 – The first ‘talkie’ (film with dialogue) is shown in Britain.
  31. 1928 – Penicillin (to treat infections) is discovered. Alexander Fleming of Britain noticed that a mould growing on a dish had stopped bacteria developing.
  32. 1929 – The crash of the American Wall Street financial markets in 1929 crippled the economies of USA and Europe, resulting in the Great Depression. In Britain, unemployment peaks at just below three million by 1932.
  33. 1930 – Mahatma Gandhi in India defied the British government, which had a monopoly on salt-making, by leading a 400 km march to the sea to make his own salt. Five million Indians copied him in defiance of the government. Gandhi was imprisoned from 1930-1931, as were approximately 60,000 others.
  34. 1931 – It was believed that the League of Nations could make the world disarm through dialogue. But in 1931, Japan seized Manchuria and pulled out of the League of Nations. The rise of militarist regimes across Europe meant that by 1933 the idea of ‘collective security’ was looking unworkable.
  35. 1935 – The first Penguin paperback books were sold in Britain – bringing quality contemporary writing to the masses at affordable prices.        
  36. 1936 – King George V dies and is succeeded by King Edward VIII.
  37. 1936 – Anglo-Egyptian Treaty ends the British protectorate of Egypt (ending 54 years of British occupation). 
  38. 1936 – King Edward VIII abdicates in order to marry divorcee Wallace Simpson. In 1937, George VI is crowned King.
  39. 1937 – Jet engine is invented in Britain.
  40. 1939 – (to 1945) World War Two. Britain declares war on Germany in response to the invasion of Poland.
  41. 1940 – Winston Churchill becomes prime minister of Britain.
  42. 1940 – Allied forces were utterly overwhelmed by the German ‘blitzkrieg’ in France. Thousands of soldiers were trapped in the French seaside town of Dunkirk. The British Royal Navy’s Operation Dynamo succeeded in evacuating approximately 338,000 British and French troops.   
  43. 1940 – Battle of Britain. Fighting in the air at new high speeds – British Spitfire & Hurricane planes vs German Luftwaffe planes. Germany retreated.
  44. 1940 – The Blitz attack on London by the Germans. Fifty-seven consecutive nights of heavy bombing killed 30,000 civilians and seriously injured a further 50,000. Two million homes were destroyed.
  45. 1942 – USA entered the war on the Allied side after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and subsequent German declaration of war on USA.
  46. 1942 – British colony of Singapore surrenders to Japanese forces. This catastrophic defeat was a fatal blow to British prestige and signalled the fall of the empire in the Far East. The Japanese unexpectedly attacked down the Malay Peninsula instead of from the sea, where Singapore’s defences were concentrated. About 70,000 men were taken prisoner, many of whom would not survive the war due to the brutal conditions of their incarceration.
  47. 1942 – British Royal Air Force bombed Cologne and Essen in Germany.
  48. 1944 – The invasion of Europe (D-Day) – the largest amphibious invasion in history – succeeded in landing 150,000 troops on the beaches of Normandy, France, through a massive-combined operation requiring hundreds of ships and total air superiority.
  49. 1945 – Allied leaders of USA, Britain and Russia shape the post-war world at the Yalta Conference (in Russia).
  50. 1945 – British troops liberate the concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen, Germany. It brought the horrors of Nazi genocide home to the British public when film and photographs of the camp appeared in British newspapers and cinemas. Millions were murdered to satisfy Nazi theories about racial-biological purity, six million of whom were Jews.
  51. 1945 – After atomic bombs were dropped in Japan, Japan surrendered to the Allies.    
  52. 1945 – End of World War Two. 384,000 British soldiers lost their lives.
  53. 1945 – United Nations comes into existence with Britain as a founding member.
  54. 1947 – India gains independence from Britain – Britain had ruled India for two centuries – but India was partitioned to Pakistan and India. This partition triggered riots, mass casualties, and a colossal wave of migration. Millions of people moved to what they hoped would be a safer territory, with Muslims heading towards Pakistan, and Hindus and Sikhs in the direction of India. Estimates of the death toll post-Partition range from 200,000 to 2 million.
  55. 1947 – Burma (Myanmar) gains independence from Britain.
  56. 1948 – Israel officially came into being upon termination of the British mandate in Palestine.
  57. 1948 – Ceylon (Sri Lanka) gains independence from Britain.   
  58. 1948 – Olympic Games open in London. (Defeated powers of Germany and Japan were excluded.) These were the first Games since Berlin, Germany in 1936. The 1940 Games went to Tokyo, then Stockholm, but were cancelled – as were the 1944 games – a due to World War Two.
  59. 1948 – National Health Service is founded in Britain.
  60. 1950 – British troops support USA in the Korean War. An armistice was agreed in July 1953 and Korea was partitioned.
  61. 1952 – King George VI dies and his daughter Elizabeth II becomes Queen.
  62. 1953 – Discovery in Britain of the structure of DNA, which makes up the genes that pass hereditary characteristics from parent to child.
  63. 1955 – Commercial television starts in Britain.
  64. 1956 – Britain and France, allied with Israel, invaded Egypt over its decision to nationalise the Suez Canal – a vital waterway connecting the Mediterranean with the Red Sea. Under USA pressure, the canal was handed back to Egypt and the invasion force was withdrawn. The crisis revealed Britain’s declining world status and its subordination to USA.
  65. 1957 – Ghana gains independence from Britain.
  66. 1957 – Malaya gains independence from Britain.
  67. 1960 – Cyprus and Nigeria gain independence from Britain.
  68. 1962 – Jamaica, Trinidad and Uganda gain independence from Britain.
  69. 1963 – Kenya, Tanzania and Singapore gain independence from Britain.
  70. 1964 – Malawi, Malta and Zambia gain independence from Britain.
  71. 1965 – Death penalty is abolished in Britain.
  72. 1966 – Guyana, Botswana, Lesotho and Barbados gain independence from Britain.
  73. 1967 – Abortion and homosexuality are legalised in Britain.
  74. 1967 – (to 1984) Over 20 British other colonies were granted independence.
  75. 1972 – British troops opened fire on a crowd of civil rights protestors in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, killing 13 civilians and injuring a further 17. The crowd of between 7,000 and 10,000 people had been marching in protest at the policy of detention without trial. The sequence of events on ‘Bloody Sunday’ remains highly controversial, with accusations that senior IRA (Irish Republican Army) figures were present on the day and shot at British troops.
  76. 1973 – Britain joins the European Economic Community (EEC) / later known as the European Union (EU).
  77. 1973 – OPEC raises price of oil, causing recession in the West.
  78. 1976 – Britain is forced to borrow money from the International Monetary Fund. The first major Western state to be forced into this humiliating course of action.
  79. 1978 – World’s first test-tube baby is born in Britain (IVF) – where egg and sperm are mixed in a glass dish, and the embryos inserted into the womb.
  80. 1979 – Margaret Thatcher becomes prime minister of Britain.
  81. 1979 – Irish Republican Army (IRA) kill Queen’s cousin Lord Louis Mountbatten and 18 soldiers.
  82. 1980 – Rhodesia becomes legally independent as Zimbabwe.
  83. 1982 – Falklands War. Argentina invaded the British owned Falklands Islands and Britain fought back. Britain won the war.
  84. 1984 – Bombing by IRA terrorists during the Conservative Party conference killed five and left more than 30 injured. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher narrowly escaped the blast. It was the closest the IRA had come to killing a British prime minister.
  85. 1986 – Privatisation of British Gas paved the way for the privatisation of British Aerospace, Cable and Wireless, Britoil, the National Bus Company, British Airways, Rolls Royce, British Steel, British Telecom, the electricity-generating industry and the water companies. These sales cut government expenditure, by bringing in large sums of money and by reducing the need for state subsidies.
  86. 1989 – World Wide Web (Internet) is invented in Britain by Tim Berners Lee.
  87. 1991 – Gulf War between Iraq and Britain (coalition with USA and other countries). After the war, Iraq retreated from Kuwait.
  88. 1994 – Channel tunnel opens, linking London and Paris by rail (planned for over a century). The tunnel became the longest undersea tunnel in the world, measuring 50 kms in total, with 39 kms of it under the sea. The tunnel lies an average of 40 m below the seabed.
  89. 1997 – Britain hands Hong Kong back to China after more than 150 years of British rule, marking the end of the British empire. Britain had held the New Territories, north of Hong Kong, under a 99-year lease that expired in 1997.
  90. 1996 – A sheep becomes the first mammal to be cloned in Britain.
  91. 1998 – Good Friday peace agreement. This agreement ended most of the violence and the political conflict in Northern Ireland that had ensued since the 1960s.  
  92. 2001 – After the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in USA, Britain joins USA in strikes on Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
  93. 2003 – Second Gulf War between Iraq and Britain (coalition with USA, Australia and other countries). The need for a further UN resolution, specifically justifying an attack on Iraq, was a cause for dispute over the legitimacy of the war.
  94. 2004 – Britain has 50 million people.
  95. 2005 – Terrorist bombings (by British Muslims) strike London’s transport system killing 52 people and injuring 700.
  96. 2008 – Global Financial Crisis.
  97. 2015 – Queen Elizabeth II becomes the longest-reigning monarch in British history.
  98. 2016 – Britain votes to leave the European Union.
  99. 2017 –Three terrorist attacks. Westminster Attack: A 52-year old Muslim convert drives a car into pedestrians before stabbing a police officer, killing 5 people and injuring 49. Manchester Arena Bombing: A suicide bombing is carried out after Ariana Grande’s concert, killing 22 and injuring hundreds. London Bridge Attack: A van is driven into pedestrians killing 8 and injuring hundreds.
  100. 2020 – Britain leaves the European Union.
  101. 2020 – (to 2021) Covid-19 pandemic caused the death of more than 120,000 lives in Britain.
  102. 2021 – Britain has 67 million people.

© Comasters March 2021.

  • Jim KABLE
    Posted at 15:05h, 10 March

    Luftwaffe = Air Wing – did you mean Messerschmidt?

    British Empire – not English Empire.

    One nor two other quibbles but a remarkable summing up Jeff.

    I find it difficult to understand England’s population leaping in 16, 17 years from 50 million to 67 million. Is there any commentary for that?

    Iraq War /Second Gulf War – led by the US (with its so-called coalition partners England, Australia etc)

    A remarkable achievement nonetheless Jeff!

    • comasters1
      Posted at 19:46h, 10 March


      I comment within your reproduced sentences below.

      Luftwaffe = Air Wing – did you mean Messerschmidt?

      JL: I understand the Germans refer to their aircrafts like this: The Messerschmitt Bf 109 is a German WW2 aircraft that was, along with the Focke-Wulf Fw 190, the backbone of the Luftwaffe’s fighter force.

      British Empire – not English Empire.

      JL: My research tells me this: England is a country. Britain is an area that consists of England and the country of Wales. Great Britain is the name of the island that is home to the countries of England, Wales, and Scotland. The United Kingdom (UK) is a country that is a union of the countries on the island of Great Britain, along with the country of Northern Ireland (which shares the island of Ireland with the Republic of Ireland.) The Republic of Ireland is a separate country that is not part of the UK.

      One nor two other quibbles but a remarkable summing up Jeff.

      JL: I am glad you read the 2,000 words. A teacher and education officer (in you) is expected to be shrewd.

      I find it difficult to understand England’s population leaping in 16, 17 years from 50 million to 67 million.
      Is there any commentary for that?

      JL: People all over the world like to migrate to London, I understand.

      Iraq War / Second Gulf War – led by the US (with its so-called coalition partners England, Australia etc)

      JL: Yes, USA (Bush) led it and England (Blair) was the No. 1 partner.

      A remarkable achievement nonetheless Jeff!

      JL: I feel my English essay has received a Distinction grade, for which I am overjoyed.


  • Albert Lee
    Posted at 09:35h, 19 April

    Congratulations Jeff on a well written article. Lots of pertinent and useful information. Amazing that a small country with a relatively small population can rule one quarter of the world at its prime.