How to name a war

Archival Moment

September 2, 1914

home1With the outbreak of war in August 1914 pundits began to coin phrases to best name this new conflict. In the very early days of the war the tendency had been to refer to it as the “European War.” As the war progressed and more nations became involved in the conflict it became known as the “Great War” and the “First World War”.

In Newfoundland, the first term given to the conflict was “The Great War” the term was first used on September 2, 1914. Copying an article from the New York Independent the St. John’s, Evening Telegram reported:

 Some wars name themselves, the Crimean War, The Civil War, the Franco – Prussian War, the Thirty Year war, the Revolutionary war, and many others.

This is the Great War

It names itself

The term “First World War” was another term that emerged shortly after the start of the war; the phrase is credited to the German philosopher Ernst Haeckel. Haeckel wrote:

“There is no doubt that the course and character of the feared “European War” will become the First World War in the full sense of the word.”

The “European War” became known as “The Great War”, and it was not until 1931, with the beginning realization that another global war might be possible, that there is any other recorded use of the term “First World War”.

During the Interwar period (1918-1939), the war was most often called the World War and the Great War in English-speaking countries.

After the onset of the Second World War in 1939, the terms World War I or the First World War became standard, with British and Canadian historians favoring the First World War, and Americans World War One.

Recommended Archival Collection:   At the Rooms Provincial Archives there is available 6683 individual service files, 2300 have been digitized and are available at:   This searchable database for military service records includes the attestation papers: name, service number, community and district of origin, next of kin and relationship, religion, occupation, year of enlistment, fatality, and POW status (if applicable). Take some time to read the stories of these young men.

Recommended Exhibit: Pleasantville: From Recreation to Military Installation. Level 2 Atrium.   Pleasantville before the First World War was the site of the St. John’s cricket grounds. With the declaration of war, Pleasantville quickly emerged as a tent city, the home of the storied “First 500”. It was here that the First Newfoundland Regiment recruits began preliminary military training during the months of September and October of 1914. This exhibition highlights some of the activities and training of the Blue Puttees up to their embarkation on the SS Florizel for overseas service.