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One Hundred Years on From a Shooting in Sarajevo, It's Time to Reflect on How the First World War Changed Britain

28/06/2014 10:20 BST | Updated 27/08/2014 10:59 BST

Anyone who has watched Blackadder Goes Forth will know that the First World War started when a bloke called Archie Duke shot an ostrich because he was hungry.

For all the histories I've read, few are more memorable than Baldrick's bottled analysis of the assassination of Archduke Franz-Ferdinand, the crown prince of Austria-Hungary.

One hundred years ago, the shooting of this one man on 28 June 1914 would plunge an entire continent into conflict and change our society forever.

Today, this centenary anniversary marks the beginning of four years of commemorations across our country to remember and reflect on the legacy of the First World War.

But what strikes me most about the moment deemed to have started it all, is that like many extraordinary episodes in history, it might never have happened at all but for pure chance.

Driving him through the streets of Sarajevo, the Archduke's chauffeur hadn't been notified of a change to his passengers' itinerary and got lost down a backstreet.

The driver had to perform a slow and ungainly u-turn and ended up stalling right outside a cafe where a Serbian nationalist named Gavrilo Princip happened to be sitting.

What happened next sparked an international crisis and led to Britain's own entry into the First World War 37 days later.

Franz Ferdinand and his pregnant wife Sophie would ultimately prove to the first casualties of a conflict that would take the lives of 16million soldiers and civilians across the globe, including 900,000 servicemen from Britain and the Commonwealth. We will forever be in their debt.

Among the fallen were hundreds of young men from the Barnsley Pals battalions from my constituency who bravely fought at the Battle of the Somme, and whose graves I visited in northern France earlier this year.

Some say they died in a conflict that though appalling, was necessary and needed to be fought. Others argue their sacrifice was futile, in a war that achieved nothing, and could and should have been avoided.

It's a debate that divided opinions at the time and I'm sure it will continue to provoke fierce debate into the future.

The value of these centenary anniversaries is that they provide us with a rare and precious opportunity to reflect together on our shared history.

I believe we can all learn a lot from history, but I've never thought it appropriate for governments or politicians to sit in judgement on events that took place 100 years ago.

Our job is to create an environment where we can reflect on our national story in an inclusive and democratic way that is respectful of differing opinions. That should include solemn and silent tributes to those who fell, but also space for lively discussion. And there's much that we should be having lively discussions about.

The story of the First World War reaches far beyond the poppy fields of Flanders. It's also about the heroes on the home front - the miners, factory and railway workers and many others who kept our country going.

It's about the millions of people from across the Commonwealth - Australia, India, Canada, the West Indies and elsewhere - who had never been to Britain but who came to fight for Britain.

And it's also the story of how our country changed.

The four years between 1914 and 1918 would bring about many profound social, political and economic changes that transformed our country for generations to come.

Around two million women entered the workforce, taking on roles that only men had ever done before. They left millions of cracks in what had been a pretty immaculate glass ceiling and helped finally win the right for women to vote in 1918.

Our democracy expanded, society became less deferential and the trade union movement grew. The war placed different demands on Whitehall, government adopted a new approach and our politics would never be the same.

The next four years provide a unique opportunity for us to explore all of this and more. Each and every community has its own story to tell.

One hundred years ago, Franz Ferdinand's assassination triggered destruction across the world. The anniversary of his death today should mark the start of a constructive period of remembrance, debate and reflection. Because it's only by looking back and asking questions about our past that we can better understand how its echoes continue to shape the lives we lead today.

Dan Jarvis is the Shadow Justice Minister and Labour's lead on the First World War centenary commemorations