Assess the effectiveness of the governments in Britain and Germany in maintaining the war effort on the home front in the period 1914 – 1918

Due to the nature of the Great War, for the first time the Home Fronts became just as important as the Western Front. Because of the lengthiness, the blockades and the new technology in munitions, it was necessary that the home front supported the action on the Western Front. This resulted in governments having more control over every day life than ever before. In the end, it was Britain who was able to make and adapt to the changing conditions the best, which influenced her ability to defeat the Germans.

In Britain, this took the form of the Defence of The Realm Act (DORA), which was passed on the 8th of August, 1914. The two major points which this act dealt with were that firstly, the government was able to punish anyone whom they thought was undermining the war effort by striking or not supporting the governments, and secondly they were able to control any areas of everyday life which they thought contributed to the war effort. This meant control over labour, the economy, strategic industries and also meant conscription.

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Both countries had to deal with major labour problems, but here Britain was more effective. In 1915 several disputes took place in Britain, such as the strike of the Welsh coal miners. Workers were unhappy with the wartime conditions, as, due to the war effort, prices had risen about 110 per cent and working hours had increased to make up for the men on active service. Lloyd George urged workers to put up with the difficulties and an agreement was made with the Trade Union leaders that they would waive their right to strike for the duration of the war. Under DORA now, strikers were fined or imprisoned.

Germany had a similar method of government control which was called the Kriegsamt. However, this was not introduced in Germany until 1916. Under the Kriegsamt, the government took control over all matters relating to the war, including civilian labour, manufacturing and transport. The Kriegsamt proved to be not as successful as DORA. Towards the end of the war, the German people were starving and were no longer supporting their government. This led to strikes in the major munition industries and other areas and this severely weakened Germany’s ability to maintain her strength on the Western Front. Britain did not face this problem due to the restrictions which were implemented earlier in the war.

A problem that both governments had to deal with was the economic strains that the war brought on. Britain placed an economic blockade on Germany early on in the war. One of Germany’s weaknesses was that she relied a great deal on imports such as copper, rubber and fertiliser. This caused great problems for her munitions production and her agriculture. Britain also, due to unrestricted submarine warfare imposed by Germany, suffered from major shortages.

In order to deal with these problems, both governments took control over the natural resources of their country. In Germany, the War Raw Materials Department was established in August 1914. This organization’s main purpose was to buy up all the available resources, then distribute them to whom they believed had the greatest need, usually the war production industry.

Another method used by the German government was to find substitutes for the imported materials which they lacked. These included synthetic rubber, textiles made from wood pulp, oil extracted from shale deposits and seeds as well as nitrates for explosives. They also used vegetable scraps mixed with stock feed to lengthen the supply of feed.

Britain coped with the shortages differently. One example of this is shown in Source C. The government used propaganda in order to encourage the civilians to make the most of what resources they had and not to waste them. Other sources of government literature, such as in Appendix 4, show a naval officer bringing food. This is an example of how the home had become a battlefield, and that everyone had to contribute to the war effort.

Another measure that was taken by the British government was using all available land for food production. In 1916 Lloyd George delivered a speech at a meeting of trade unionists in which he said:

:…if the submarine losses continue, you ought not to allow one of these men to cultivate anything which is ornamental until they have utilised to the fullest their powers for the production of food”1

The government was stressing the importance of using all available land for food cultivation. Places like tennis courts, railway sidings and building sites were turned into fields.

Furthermore, the British government implemented regulations in order to preserve the supply of food. One of the restrictions instigated was the restriction on the opening ours of hotels and restaurants, limiting the amount of food they could serve. Hotels and restaurants were forced to have one meatless day per week. It also limited the amount of wheat used in flour to make bread, and limited the amount of sugar in sweets. The government also encouraged voluntary rationing of items such as meat, milk, sugar, tea and bread, which eventually became compulsory in some areas.

In their methods of dealing with shortages, the British seemed to have been more successful. By 1917 parts of Germany were starving, which was one of the contributing factors to the revolution that was occurring. As seen in Source G, people were forced to scavenge for food scraps, which was dramatically lowering the support of the German people for the government, as they were living in such appalling conditions. The problem for the Germany was firstly, all of their efforts were going in to keep up with munitions production, as the War Raw Materials Department was allocating what materials were available to the war effort. This is seen in Source F Walter Rathenau states:

“Metals are subject to control, as are chemicals and textiles if based on wool and jute…other products- leather, rubber, linen, cotton- will shortly be controlled”

This shows the Departments focused on war materials, rather than food resources. Secondly, due to coal shortages, food which was produced within Germany, could not be transported to the areas which needed it. Britain however, had much more success in making use of what it had in order to overcome its shortages. Although it came close to starvation, its efforts in rationing their food and making do with what resources it actually had enabled it to last the war, despite the blockade.

Both countries suffered from labour shortages as the men who would normally be workers were sent to the front. This caused problems for both sides as they were unable to maintain munitions production without the labour. In order to do this, the German and British governments had to initiate various regulations in order to keep up production.

In Germany, one of the ways that the government dealt with the lack of men was a law which was passed by Hindenburg under the Kriegsamt, called the Patriotic Auxiliary Service Law. This law gave the government control over all men who aged 17-60 and where they worked. It was the Kriegsamt’s job to allocate the men left at home to the area where they deemed necessary. These areas included agriculture, forestry, munitions production and transport.

Both Germany and Britain encouraged women into the work force to make up for the absent men. As seen in Source A, the women were employed in industries in which they had never been employed before. In Britain propaganda was once again used to encourage women to work in munitions and other industries where they were needed, an example of this is seen in Appendix 5. By making the women feel like they were directly contributing to the war effort, the government was able to maintain munitions production. Similarly, in Germany women were encouraged into the work force, but their efforts were not as successful. This is attributable to the difficult conditions which they German civilians were living under. They were starving and losing their morale, which restricted their work. This is seen in Source H, as one of the contributing factors to Germany’s loss of the war in the end, as they were unable to match the production rate of their enemies.

One of the factors which made Germany’s war effort less successful than the British was the government’s inability to recognise the needs of the people. As the home front was the backbone of the conflict, it was in the government’s best interest to maintain a good quality for the civilians. This is something which the Germans did not achieve. Due to the political structure of Germany, the Kaiser had all the control of the actions which took place. Although it looked like a democracy, all of the ministers in the Reichstag were answerable to the Kaiser, not the party members. This meant that during the war, Germany became a military dictatorship which meant the government ignored the needs of the people. This was one of the weakening factors for Germany in the war. As the people on the home front were unhappy, they were not as obliging to do what was required. They had low morale and were starving, which reduced their desire to work for their country. People began to strike and protest as the war continued, and due to this, Germany was unable to keep up with the munition needs on the Western Front.

Britain, on the other hand, was far more successful politically as Lloyd George put the government in control of the labour, price controls and rationing. This maintained an even distribution of resources. Another strengthening factor was the agreement which was made between the trade unions and the government, not to strike for the duration of the war, so Britain was able to maintain her munition production rates, when Germany’s were dwindling.

Another factor that needs to be taken into consideration when assessing the governments’ effectiveness is the attitudes of the people on the home front. If people supported the war effort, then they were more likely to put up with difficulties at home. This is an area where Germany was not as strong as Britain, and eventually paid its toll as the civilian support of the war in Germany changed. This is where propaganda and censorship played an important role as it gave governments a way in which to control the attitudes of the civilians.

The German government spent a great deal of effort on censorship. They had led the people to believe that they were fighting a defensive war against the Russians, French and British. However, in 1917 when Russia surrendered and Germany received a large amount of land from the Brest-Litovsk Treaty. This made it obvious to the people that the conflict had been offensive, which turned their support for the government.

The propaganda methods used in Britain were more successful than those used in Germany. Its first objective was to recruit men. Appendix 1 shows an example of the recruitment propaganda, which the government used to play on the conscience of the men. Britain did not have conscription when the war broke out, and relied on voluntary conscription up until 1916 when it became necessary.

An important part of the controlling of the home front was to make the civilians hate the enemy. Campaigns like this existed in both Germany and Britain. Britain was able to use Germany’s invasion of Belgium as a way of making the Germans seem barbaric and ruthless, and an example of this is seen in Appendix 2, which shows a German soldier with an impaled baby on the end of his bayonet. Germany used literature like in Appendix 3 to promote hate of Britain, but was painting it in a more aggressive tone, rather than showing the German people why they should hate them.

An important factor in the strengths and weaknesses of the propaganda of both countries is how well the literature is received. One of the problems that is thought to have plagued the German campaigns is the audience level which the pieces were pitched at. As seen in Appendix 3, the pieces had a more complicated, mythological feel to it, which made it less likely to appeal to the simple worker, whereas British propaganda was straightforward in painting the Germans as vicious and war-mad, as seen in Appendix 2. Therefore, this made the British more successful in achieving its objective.

Overall, Britain was more successful in maintaining the war effort on the home front during World War One, which contributed to her defeat of Germany in the end. This was largely because of the British democratic system, which meant that the people’s demands had to be met. In the end, the British therefore put more effort into keeping up the morale of the people and maintaining their quality of living. In Germany, the government did not meet the needs of the people. As the home front was the backbone of the conflict, if the people on the home front were happy this would greatly benefit the Western Front. In the end, Germany was unable to achieve this, and this contributed greatly to their defeat in the Great War.

How useful are three of the given sources to an historian studying the impact of World War One on the home front?

Source A consists of six photographs demonstrating the type of work in which women partook in during the war. It includes pictures of women working in munitions factories, in mining, army headquarters, as police officers and as general labourers.

As they are photographs, they can be classed as a primary source. This can be backed up by the date that is shown beneath the photo of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps car drivers, which states that the photo was taken in 1917.

The purpose of the photographs are to show how the role of women changed for the war. It demonstrates them doing tasks which they would not have previously undertaken. This can be assumed because of the range of tasks which are being shown, all being on the one page, giving the viewer an idea of the types of employment women participated in.

It appears to have been composed in hindsight, as one of the pictures is dated. If the picture was current, then there would not be such a need to date the picture. With the heading in the middle ‘British Women’s War Work’ it gives the impression that this source has been composed to show what the women did, how they worked and helped the British war effort.

Although there is no composer on the source, it can be assumed that it was composed by a British person, as it shows the British women in a positive light. The women are being shown to be working hard, being efficient and braving the laborious work.

The reliability of these photos can be confirmed by the facts and figures which support the content of this source. According to statistics in the Report of the War Cabinet Committee in Women Industry released in 1919, the number of women employed in industrial areas in 1914 compared to 1918 shows an increase of nearly one million women.

For an historian, this source would be quite useful in examining how the role of women changed on the home front. It shows them doing jobs that they did not undertake prior to the war, and wearing attire that would not normally be appropriate for a woman. In conjunction with other sources which confirm these photos reliability, it provides an historian with visual documentation of the British women’s war effort.

Source E is a primary source as it is a participant’s account of an anti-war demonstration in Berlin. This source can be thought of as less reliable than the previous one for an historian as it is a personal account of the event. This means that it is based on the author’s opinion of proceedings, what she saw, what she experienced and what she remembered. Although the account could be truthful from her perspective, the whole event isn’t being taken into account.

The first evidence of this is shown in her estimation of how many people attended the demonstration. She claims that there were only ‘a few’ policemen there and there were ‘a thousand’ people there. These are both vague claims which are not supported by any hard facts of the demonstration.

Another problem with the source is the translation of it. As it is a recount of the anti-war demonstration in Berlin, it can be assumed that the person recounting it was a German woman, therefore she would have been most likely to have written her account in German. In the translation, some facts or the wording of some sentences could have been unintentionally changed due to the differences between English and German.

A factor to be considered it that it is being told in the second person, which implies that she was a part of the group. This would be useful to an historian as it is showing the opinion of one of the anti-war demonstrators. On the other hand, it is plagued with emotion which suggests that there could be some exaggeration of facts and events, and generally not a clear recount of the raw picture.

Furthermore, in consideration of who wrote it, the source appears to have left wing views, as the woman states “These words rang out to the bourgeois Reichstag representatives.” The tone she speaks in displays a sense of hostility towards the class-structure and the government causing the war. This would be supported by the political revolution that Germany was hit with, as socialism was spreading. Therefore, an historian would have to take into consideration this woman’s perspective, as a left wing demonstrator, and how her view could be altered by this.

The source states that it was written for The Virago Book of Women and the Great War. Because this book was composed by a women, with the intention of demonstrating the role of women in the war, it would present a different perspective than a book written by a man. This source represents the women as strong, out-spoken and fearless as it tells of them confronting the Reichstag and the police, whereas a man may recount this event as the women being ill-informed and overly emotional.

For an historian, this source is reliable only if they wanted to get an opinion of the events of the first anti-war demonstration in Berlin. This piece shows bias due to the emotional nature of the source, but it does shed some light on the proceedings of the event. But as it is from the perspective of one person in the crowd, the bigger picture cannot be completed.

Source H is also a primary source and can be considered as semi-reliable. It is an extract from the German Chief of Staff, given in the Reichstag towards the end of the war. Likewise with Source E, it is plagued with emotion, which limits its reliability as a source.

As the speech is being delivered by a German towards the end of the war, it can be assumed that his morale and enthusiasm would be severely discouraged by the losses that Germany had suffered after such a long, hard war. Therefore this would limit the exaggeration that would have originally have been a part of a speech to be delivered to the Reichstag. One this other hand, in order to maintain their pride, it is possible that he is playing down the defeat of the Germans and the events which occurred around their demise.

Another negative point of the source is what is not said by the General. He tells the Reichstag that the reason for Germany’s defeat is because of the tanks introduced by the British and Americans. He does not speak of the weaknesses which was bringing down the German army from the beginning.

In support of the document, its purpose is to inform the Reichstag of the situation on the Western Front. This would imply that he is delivering information that is necessary for the other political party leaders so they have an informed opinion on what is going on. Because of the audience of this source, it makes it a more reliable document than a speech to the German public would be, as the government was trying to censor the bad news that they had access to.

In this speech, the General is also making assumptions on why the German army was not strong enough in defeating the enemy, by stating that it ‘broke the morale of our people.’ Once again, this is down playing the weakness of the German army, instead of coming out and saying they lost because they were weaker, he is suggesting that their defeat had a large amount to do with the loss of spirit of the men.

For an historian, this source is useful as it shows the picture that was painted for the political parties of the Reichstag towards the end of the war. This shows the opinion of the German General, and what he delivered to the men of the Reichstag. The content of the source is mildly useful because when taking into consideration the context of the source, the events surrounding this speech would influence what he says and more importantly how he tells the Reichstag that Germany will be defeated.