‘How far did World War One effect the lives of people living in Britain between 1914 and 1918?’
World War One had many short-term effects on the people living in Britain between 1914 and 1918, some small and others large. However, I do not think that it had any large long-term effects, on Britain or on the people living in Britain at that time apart from on women’s social standing. First I will look at large, short-term effects.
Or the Defense Of the Realm Act had quite a large-scale effect on Britain. It was also the cause of many other issues to be discussed in this essay, such as rationing. It originally began by allowing the government to control many aspects of the country completely; they could take over industries, factories and even people private land and houses for use in the war. They could also control how much people found out about the war through censorship. One of the first things the government did under DORA was to take control of the coal industry, and turn it towards helping the war effort, rather than putting money in private peoples pockets. During the war more changes were made, a lot of them affecting many aspects of peoples daily lives, under DORA people could not:
Talk about military matters in public or spread rumors about military affairs anywhere
Trespass on railways, bridges or allotments
Fly kites or light bonfires or fireworks
Melt down gold or silver
Give bread to dogs, chickens or horses
Use invisible ink when writing abroad
Buy whiskey or brandy in a railway refreshment room or a similar place
Ring church bells
As you can see there is a long list of things people were not allowed to do, as well as the government having the new powers already mentioned, the government also ordered for beer to be watered down, pub opening hours to be shortened and to not let people buy rounds or drinks in a pub. They also introduced the idea of putting the clocks forward by 1 hour during the summer, so that people could work longer while it was still light.
These things altogether had quite a large short-term affect on the people of Britain, so much so that ‘by the end of the war, people were used to the government controlling their lives completely’, clearly this is something rather detrimental to Britain, it meant people could not always do what they wanted to do, restricting their right to free will.
They could not fly kites, ring church bells, buy binoculars etc, and all of these smaller things, coupled with the larger things would have made a big difference to the people of Britain. I say D.O.R.A was a large short-term effect because at the end of the war, most of the acts passed under DORA were removed, the state no longer controlled buildings, or aspects of daily lives, apart from the new pub opening hours, which remained in effect until 1989, ‘even though they were meant only for the war’.
DORA also had many other effects, which are in themselves issues to be discussed in this essay:
Another example of Dora’s power can be seen in the form of rationing, because the government was able to take over and control land, they could take over farm land and turn it’s usage to producing what they wanted to be produced. They hired women to work the land (because men were away fighting), and did this in order to keep the country fed, but by 1917 the situation had become dire, German U-Boats were sinking one in every four of our supply ships, and there simply was not enough food for everyone to have exactly what they wanted. Food prices rose to double what they were in 1914, and since people had not asked for higher wages because they had wanted to support the war, they could not afford to pay. Rich people bought much more than they needed and hoarded it, whilst poorer people could not even afford to buy bread.
Shops closed early because their stocks had run dry, and there were serious strikes over ‘poverty level wages’. The government then attempted to encourage people to economies on their food usage; leaflets, posters and articles were produced to try to get people to save as much food, particularly bread as possible. But none of their measures proved to be effective, so rationing was introduced, this meant that everyone had a set weekly allowance of food, comprising of sugar, meat, butter and beer, and they were issued with coupons that enabled them to get their set amount of food.
As it turned out, by the end of the war, people were actually more healthy than they had been at the start, because they were eating a more balanced diet, the rich and the poor could only get the same amount of food as each other, so it also proved to be a much fairer method of supplying everyone in the country with enough food to live on. This was another short term affect, one under DORA, as once the war was over and the food supply was back to operational speed again, rationing ended and people were able to get as much, or as little food as they were able to before.
This will have had a much larger affect on the mind of the British citizen than any other effect of the war, although not being able to eat exactly what you wanted or do exactly what you wanted, these things were more physical when compared to propaganda, which had large physiological affects on people.
DORA gave the government the right to control newspapers and other forms of media, in order to limit what the civilian population found out about the war. During the first few months of the war, where thousands of men were dieing in terrible ways, the government only reported good news, no reporter could go to France or to Belgium, and the control the government had was so incredibly totalitarian, they even kept the house of commons ‘in the dark’ as to the full reality of the front line.
For the first two years of the war most propaganda was rather crude, with many tales of British heroism and German atrocities, all highly patriotic, and completely supportive of the war. However as popular opinion changed the government had to adapt their propaganda strategies to cope with it. In 1916, ‘appalling’ losses were being made at the battle of the Somme, with thousands of soldiers on both sides dieing daily, the government took this opportunity to attempt to show the people what the war was really like.
What they filmed however was pre staged mock battles and scenes of soldiers going of the top bravely, and achieving much, they also showed pictures of dead and wounded men, something that had never been done before. This supposedly wakened a lot of people up to the harsh realities of the war, they were seeing so much that shocked and disgusted them, when really most of the footage was fake, and only half of the true story was being told.
Propaganda was a powerful short term effect on what people thought of the war, it meant that because people did not know the full harsh reality of war, they kept on supporting it, it is likely that had the real story been told from the outset, the people may well have decided against the war. In it’s defense however, propaganda helped to keep the morale in Britain up when things were going badly, as the government could easily churn out a patriotic poster, or an awe inspiring leaflet.
Below is a large effect, which had a lot more knock on effects than anything else.
Women At War
The countries male population had been severely reduced, because they were all out fighting on the front lines, so there were very few men left to farm, make munitions, and do all the other jobs that they used to do before the war, such as being a delivery driver. So women had to take over, the government formed the W.L.A or Women’s Land Army, and women who signed up to this would work on farms around the country, planting, harvesting and looking after crops. They were also employed in industry, most commonly the munitions making industry, and as other forms of laborer.
People found that the women were just as able to do the jobs as well as all the men were, and although they were not paid as high a wage as the men, the women found that they enjoyed working and earning a lot more money than they would have done in previous jobs, if they were employed at all. This was a much larger effect of the war, particularly as it led to women getting the vote in 1918 under the representation of the people act, they had proved they could do everything a man could do, and they had helped their country get through the war, although the right to vote was not given under equal terms until 1928, 10 years later, up until then only land owning women over 30 could vote.
Women working in previously male jobs also led to help in the breakdown of the class system, because all women were involved, a rich land owner could be working on the field or in the factory right next to a poor dressmakers daughter. They found that it was possible to make friends with the ‘lower classes’, and most thoroughly enjoyed it. The same was happening to the male population, as all soldiers on the front line were equal unless they were higher up in the chain of command, so a rich man could find himself in a position of having his life saved by a poor ‘lower class’ man, or vice versa.
Some smaller, short-term changes
A conscription act was issued in 1916, this stated that all men aged between 18 and 41 had to fight in the war, there was no option, because although at the start of the war they could not get people out to the front lines fast enough, as it carried on, the numbers of people wishing to lose their life for Haig and country began to dwindle, so conscription was the only thing that would ensure a steady flow of soldiers to be.
After this all married men had to fight as well, and this then led to a huge shortage of workers in vital industries, which then led to women taking their places in the workplace, which then led to women getting the vote, and the eventual breakdown of the class system. Of course some people did not want to fight at all, even when they had to, these people were called conscientious objectors or ‘conchies’ for short, however they did have to prove that they were really objecting to fighting for a reason of conscience, e.g. their religion or a deeply held belief that war is wrong. A lot of ‘conchies’ were very badly treated, a lot were banded as criminals and placed in jail, some not even let out after the war was long over, and others could even be shot for being traitors.
This was the first time conscription had been introduced in Britain, but like many other things, when the war finished, so did conscription.
There were many things that the First World War affected in Britain: food, the way people viewed the war, lively hoods and more were all altered in some way, most of the effects were temporary though, after the war they simply went away, and people went back to how it used to be before the war. All except for one effect, the way women had been treated before the war was as housewives and maids, fit only to do ‘women’s work’ at home, or at somebody else’s home, they were thought of as the child bearers, and nothing much else.
The war allowed women to prove they could be more than just that, after the war there were 400,000 less maids than there had been before it, women knew now that they could do whatever men could do, and do it well also. For their hard work, women won the vote, and eventually on equal terms as men, however, all did not change instantly, when the war finished many women went back to what they used to be doing, and the men came back to their old jobs as well, but I do not think this matters, as the ball had already been set rolling, women had proved that they were mans equals, and they could, and would do it again.
I do not thing that World War One deserves to be called a ‘Total War’ when compared to World War Two, although compared to previous wars such as the Boer war and the Napoleonic wars, World War One was the closest that had come to being a ‘total war’, people were much more involved in it than they ever had been before, there was conscription, bombing, women were commissioned to work in jobs previously only ever done by men, and the civilian population was being constantly bombarded by hundreds of propaganda messages. This was something people had never experienced before, never had a civilian felt so touched, so involved by the war, never had women worked in factories or had the vote, and civilians had never been bombed as they lay in bed before.
Yet, compared to World War Two, WW1 was not total war, the bombing was really not at all severe, neither were the casualties, the weapons, the rationing or the everyday dangers when put next to World War Twos figures.