The First World War was Britains first total war, this means that it was the first war to involve every one in Britain even those at home. Previous wars had been fought on a battlefield in distant lands not affecting any one at home as they only knew of these battles when they were published in newspapers. This war was different. It touched everybody’s life in one way or another. This war was a war of attrition meaning it was a war in that who ever could produce the most munitions, soldiers and weapons would most probably win and it was an industrial war.
To win the war, a country would need to have a consistent supply of food, soldiers, and munitions, as well as high morale to keep on fighting until victory. The combination of these factors would affect each aspect of the war, including the Home Front.
At first as people did not know what war was like so thousands of men rushed to volunteer. Many were not old enough but even this was still not enough so recruitment posters were put up to entice the British male population. With more and more casualties Britain needed too keep up the ranks so conscription was introduced.
“Men not in uniform were taunted and presented with white feathers, the mark of cowardice”
Conscription was introduced in 1916 and meant that all men aged between 18 and 40 had to register for active service. The Government did this for several reasons, fewer people were volunteering and the numbers of dead and wounded were rising so needed replacing. Another problem was that so many of the volunteers were miners that some had to be sent back to provide the essential supplies of coal.
In early 1918, Britain was receiving support from America. American troops were being shipped into France at the rate of 50,000 every month, and this greatly strengthened the allies’ front line.
“The departure of so many men to the battle grounds left a serious shortage of labour.”
In July 1915 British troops hit a huge munitions crisis. As a result of this the government set up the ministry of munitions under David Lloyd George to recognise Britain’s munitions supply. Lloyd George and Mrs Pankhurst, a suffragette leader, organised “Women’s march for jobs” to recruit women to work in factories. A woman working was unheard of before the war so there was going to be a struggle involved. Despite their pleas many employers refused to take on women. However soon the government came to an agreement with trade unions that men and women employees would be paid equally although they would only work until there were enough men once more available to work. By December 1916 Lloyd George was Prime Minister and Land Girls (women working in agriculture) were born!
In 1914 the government passed the Defence of the Realm Act which became known as DORA. It gave the government wide-ranging powers controlling many parts of everyday life. It meant that any buildings or land (or maybe even industries) that were required by the government could be seized at any time to contribute to the war effort. This sometimes resulted in censorship controlling what the public found out about the war. This secrecy meant that morale remained high and even this element, that may seem trivial, helped the allies win the war. One of the first industries taken over by the government was the coal industry due to the lack of employees so to aid the war effort rather than profit private mine owners.
In theory, DORA meant that as men left their jobs to join the army, women were allowed to step in for the first time. This contributed to the war effort and also pleased the suffragettes.
“In the spring of 1917 Britains supplies of food had reached crisis levels. At one point it was estimated that London’s food supply was down to a few days.”
The amount of food supplies a country has effects the health and efficiency of the country; it also effects the effort toward war from the country. Britain relied mainly on her merchant ships to retrieve supplies but with the German breakthrough with her U-boats travelling under the water and firing torpedo’s putting 1 in 4 merchant ships out of action so limiting Britains supplies. Britain thought that they had it bad but there were reports that Germans resolved to eating rats due to the British blockade of her ports. Prices had shot up in Britain hitting the poorer people harder. Food became a luxury and expensive.
“21 January 1918
The Times reported:
The queues at Smithfield, around those butchers who do retail trade, were very large. At 11 o’clock the queue consisted of 4,000 people.”
In May 1917 voluntary rationing was introduced and standards were set b the Royal family. They claimed that they would reduce their consumption of bread by one quarter and use reduced amounts of flour in recipes. The government introduced the “Ninepenny Loaf” and issued cookery books with recipes using less flour. However none of these methods were effective enough. The system of compulsory rationing first came about in early 1918. This restricted sales per person of sugar, butter, meat and beer. The government issued ration books to every body. They contained coupons, which were handed over, every time they bought their ration. Breaches of the rationing order were dealt with severely.
Court Date Nature of Offence Result
HENDON / 29th Aug, 1918 / Unlawfully obtaining & using ration books / 3 months imprisonment
WEST HAM / 29th Aug. 1918 / Being a retailer & failing to detach proper no. of forms /Fined ï¿½20
SMETHWICK / 22nd July 1918 / Obtaining meat in excess quantities / Fined ï¿½50 & ï¿½5 5s. Costs
OLD STREET /4th Sept, 1918/Being a retailer selling to an unregistered customer/Fined ï¿½50 & ï¿½5 5s. Costs
On the whole rationing was widely welcomed as a fairer system of distributing the available food. Surveys showed that the diet and health of many poor people had improved compared to their health before the war as a result of rationing.
Morale was one of the key elements that enabled Britain to win the war as with out the co-operation of those at home Britain would probably not win the war. A cartoon (Walsh p.56 source 12) showed how attitudes changed throughout the war.
1914 – People were excited and expected a short victorious war. At first people flocked to enrol to the army.
1915 – Standards were slipping, food shortages were on the way and more people were involved. People were fed up of the war.
1916 – Most people were contributing to the war effort. Food shortages were worsening. People were certain that the end of the war was near.
1917 – People were excepting the war and what it entailed. They were prepared for the worse. Everybody’s attitude and lifestyle had changed.
To win this war of attrition it was vital that people wanted to continue fighting and win the war so morale played a mammoth part on the rocky road to victory, there were various ways of keeping up spirits. Propaganda played a very important role, as the public did not know completely what was going on. This was because DORA gave the government the right to control the media so people did not discover some of the dark secrets of the war and trench warfare. Instead the newspapers were full of heroic tales and German atrocities. This kept spirits up at home and kept everybody happy so this war of attrition could be won as everyone had a reason to continue trying. As the war went on the nature of the propaganda altered. The government released a film in August 1916 about The Battle of Somme it included some actual footage and scenes of apparently dead or dying soldiers. People were no longer as naï¿½ve about what war was like. The film was declared “a masterpiece” and convinced those who saw it that despite the terrible casualties the Battle of Somme was a brave and heroic struggle.
So how important was the Home front to Britain and the allies winning the war? It was a war of attrition so the country with the best supplies would presumably win the war. It was also a total war, a brand new type of warfare, where everybody was involved in one way or another, including those at home.
DORA was one of the most important schemes that took place on the Home Front during the war and deffinately helped Britain pull through during hard times. At the beginning of the war recruitment posters were put up to make people want to join the army and help their country, however this method wasn’t working so conscription was introduced. Conscription is a great example of total war. It meant that all men aged 18 – 40 would have to join the army. This was introduced as at first men rushed to join but then when many casualties occurred they soon ran short, so conscription helped to win the war of attrition. As more and more men went off to fight their jobs were left empty and it was more vital than ever before to fill them. Though at first it was a struggle for woman to work the government realised that as munitions were so low they needed to open factories just for ammunition production by female employee’s.
Then land girls come about, women whom worked in agriculture, and other such jobs. As a result of this a series women’s rights evolved. This kept people busy and boosted morale as everybody thought that they were contributing to the war effort. By 1917 food supplies became quite desperate so with the help of DORA new measures were inflicted. At first there was voluntary rationing but this did not seem to help matters much so compulsory rationing was introduced. This meant that every body got their fair share of food keeping everybody happy and let the government worry about other things. To win this war of attrition it was vital that people wanted to continue fighting and win the war so morale played a mammoth part on the rocky road to victory.
Maybe if Germanys Home Front had been more efficient then it could have led them to victory. Without the help of the Home Front then it is almost certain that Britain would have lost the war. The support from the Home Front meant that Britain could support the Western Front so we could keep on fighting until victory.