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History Excursion to Vienna - Origins of World War 1

On Friday 11th November (conveniently Armistice Day to remember the end of the First World War) Mr Setchell and Mrs Sabri took the AS and A level students of history to Vienna to the Heeresgeschtliches Museum (Museum of Military History).

This museum hosts the military memorabilia from the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, which includes the present day Czech Republic as well as 23 other nationalities, as well as Austria since the end of the First World War. The museum is so huge that we managed to only see roughly a quarter of its vast collection, which actually goes back to the Holy Roman Empire and the siege of Vienna by the Ottoman Empire.

Our focus was the causes and impacts of the First World War, and this is an area for which there can be no better museum to visit. The museum is home to many items that show the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the nineteenth century and the ideas of nationalism and the issues facing the Emperor Franz Josef that led to the Sarajevo crisis that triggered the First World War. Seeing the development of machine guns, aircraft, rifles and artillery all helped the students to understand that the First World War was something different to what had happened before.

The most famous exhibit of the museum is based on the infamous assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand on the 28th June 1914. The museum hosts the very car and uniform of the Archduke on that fateful day, as well as several of the pistols the assassins of the Black Hand gang were equipped with to take those shots. You could see the hole in the bright gold neck collar of the Archduke’s uniform, the hole in the car through which the first bullet then hit his Czech wife, Sophie, and sadly the stains of blood on the blue uniform as he bled to death. The students were able to see these items which led to one of the most harrowing and impactful events of the world. It certainly brought things home for them.

The students were then also able to see evidence of life in the trenches during the First World War for Austro-Hungarian and Russian soldiers on the various battlefronts and the sheer hell that they had to go through until 1918. Our tour guide explained how the bright blue uniforms and gold helmets of Imperial Austrian cavalry changed to the dull grey and black uniforms and life in trenches.

We were also able to see Austrian military developments and its incorporation into the Third Reich/Nazi Germany following Anschluss in 1938, important for the level 4 students who study life in Hitler’s Germany and the Holocaust.

Finally after the museum we got some happier sights by visiting a mall in northern Vienna before heading back to Townshend. The students behaviour was again, an impeccable standard, listening with thought and care to the museum and stating how useful the trip will be to their studies in the following months. It is also another fantastic example of how Townshend’s location really is helpful in allowing students to visit places so steeped in history that aid their studies and enrich their understanding in a way that cannot be achieved through photos and classroom learning.

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