The Great War 1914-1918 (UK Edition)


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The outbreak of war

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By the middle of , the balance of manpower between the army and production on the home front became a serious problem, as volunteering began to decline. The introduction of conscription came from a complex mixture of political rivalries and arguments, the need to balance military needs with those of industry and the national economy, and a belief that greater government intervention and control was needed to win the war.

The government had believed that there was a pool of about 1 million suitable men who had failed to volunteer, but this turned out to be untrue. Discounting those men needed on the home front to maintain the war economy, conscription provided the army only with just enough men to keep it up to strength. Given that the proportions of men taken from different regions and social groups were broadly similar, the army was predominantly English and working class, but there were many variations; up to the start of conscription at least, the officer corps was drawn overwhelmingly from the upper-middle class, who suffered disproportionate losses, especially of young men.

Canada's Great War, 1914-1918

The British-led Allied domination of the seas continued, but showed no prospect of winning the war quickly. A Controller of Shipping was appointed in January , followed by a Ministry of Shipping at the end of the year and a Ministry of Blockade created in February , intensifying the blockade and helping keep the country supplied from overseas. Although British public opinion was disappointed by the lack of an overwhelming victory, the German failure to defeat the British meant that the blockade and British domination of global trade both continued.

On 5 June, Kitchener was drowned when the British warship on which he was travelling sank in the North Sea. Otherwise, the war at sea continued to run increasingly and almost entirely in the British and Allied favour. The expansion of war industry together with mass recruiting for the army resulted in labour shortages by early , and female labour took on a new significance. From the start, British official propaganda emphasised the importance of women to the war effort , not just in a domestic role as supporters of their menfolk at war, but as positive contributors. Upper- and upper-middle class women took up many roles on the home front.

The Women Police Volunteer Service appeared in These women worked as organisers and committee members at a local level, stretching to a national level in some cases. The wartime role of women nurses and clerical workers helped confirm their positions in distinctly female professions. Women military nurses, drivers and clerical workers, including some wartime volunteers, saw active service on the fighting fronts although never in combat roles , in which a number were killed in action or decorated for bravery.

At the Chantilly Conference of December the French, British and Italians each agreed to launch a substantial attack against the Germans and Austro-Hungarians in early summer ; later also agreed by the Russians, this plan was the only occasion in the war that the Allies co-ordinated their major attacks in this way. This committed the British to using their under-trained and under-equipped army on the Western Front in what would become the Battle of the Somme.

This was the first full-scale British experience of First World War battles, an Anglo-French offensive campaign lasting from July to November with several hundred thousand casualties on all sides, for the gain of a few kilometres of ground. Because of the British voluntary recruiting system, the effect on small communities could be devastating.

But the British fought on, and by the mid-point of the battle they had already shocked their German enemies with their firepower and their improving military skills. Facing two effective major enemies on the Western Front rather than the French army alone had a profound effect on German strategic planning. The army took a large part of its existing civilian culture with it to war, and the impact of encountering other countries and cultures on most soldiers was surprisingly small. The daily experience of individual soldiers could also be vastly different.

Even soldiers in the fighting formations such as the infantry would be involved in a major battle at most two or three times in the course of their war service. Even so, statistically any British soldier who served in France and Flanders had about one chance in two of being injured or killed in the course of the war. The closeness of the Western Front to Great Britain and the interaction between these soldiers and British civilians all had a brief but profound impact on domestic life and society. In political and social, as well as economic and military terms, the problem for the British was whether even their immense resources could cope with supporting their Allies and Empire with money and equipment, while at the same time creating and using a mass army of their own, with its own demands for equipment and for men in the face of the inevitable accompanying heavy losses.

Although Great Britain had officially abandoned the gold standard at the start of the war, economic orthodoxy was that its international standing was linked to its gold reserves, which were set to run out in early ; technically, Great Britain was facing bankruptcy. Although the Allied offensives of had rocked the Central Powers, they were still undefeated. In December , Asquith was forced to resign and was replaced as prime minister by Lloyd George at the head of a Unionist-led coalition, with most of the Liberals following Asquith into opposition.

This greatly intensified the problem of British political-military relations: although Lloyd George was a dominating figure as a prime minister, he depended chiefly for his political support on London newspapers and on Unionists who also supported Haig and other generals who believed that the war could and should be won on the Western Front. Meanwhile the Germans, in reaction to their own failure to win decisively at Jutland, to the continuing blockade, and to the growing Allied strength on the Western Front, opted for the extreme measure of unrestricted submarine warfare once more, introduced on 1 February in an attempt to defeat Great Britain by cutting off its food supply.

The immediate consequence was that the United States entered the war as an Associated Power on the Allied side on 6 April The German submarine campaign failed against the strength of the Royal Navy and Allied sea power as well as the British ability to organise their economy and food supplies. With the impact of the German unrestricted submarine campaign, and heavy losses on the Western Front for no obvious gain, was the year of greatest strain and division for the British Home Front.

Historians describe the British government "remobilising" its people for the war effort. This included punitive measures, increasingly used against dissenters, including the well-publicised imprisonment of a small number of conscientious objectors to conscription. A wave of British industrial unrest and strikes began that continued through into But a government commission of enquiry reported in July that although there was evidence of war weariness, the root causes of the strikes were costs, shortages and inequalities rather than ideological or revolutionary opposition.

British domestic propaganda was consolidated into a Ministry of Information in February In April , all men aged eighteen to fifty-one became liable for conscription, including in theory in Ireland, which resulted in major political disruption there; Canada had also introduced conscription. By the last few months of the war the British army was increasingly short of trained soldiers, and more reliant for its best fighting troops on the Western Front on the Canadians and Australians. This had political implications both during the war and for the relationship between Great Britain and its Empire.

The Great War: , 2nd Edition (Paperback) - Routledge

The plan was to go onto the defensive on the Western Front in the face of an expected German attack following the collapse of Russia, wait for the arrival and build-up of a large United States army, and meanwhile make greater efforts against the Ottoman Empire. For most of the war, military victory on the Western Front was measured more in casualties inflicted on the enemy than in terms of ground gained. Total casualty figures were not made public by either side during the war, and afterwards claims as to which side had won a particular battle were based on casualty figures that were highly politicised; this has presented major historical problems in answering even basic questions as to how many soldiers from each country were killed during the war, and in each specific battle.

British losses were lower in absolute terms; as a percentage of those who served; and as a percentage of the population, than those of any other major belligerent except the United States. Nevertheless, the effect of these losses on a Great Britain unused to mass land warfare was politically and psychologically devastating. Among soldiers younger than twenty-five the death rate was about 15 percent, and over 20 percent for young upper-middle class officers. This has raised three large and closely related historical questions: how much British civilians on the home front knew about the fighting on the Western Front; what they thought about it; and how the troops themselves both endured the experience and eventually achieved victory.

But in broad terms the British public was kept well informed by successive governments of the nature of fighting on the Western Front, and had a realistic understanding of what it involved. Overall, British propaganda reflected a country in conversation with itself, including many local events, speeches and initiatives, rather than a firm policy imposed from the top. Germany, with its proclivity for committing repeated war crimes and violations of expected norms , was also an almost perfect enemy for rousing British popular sentiment.

The threat of a German victory in early played an important part in a renewed wave of British popular support for the war, which by its end may have been even greater than in The announcement of the Armistice with Germany on 11 November , which was taken to mean the victorious end of the war, came unexpectedly to most Britons, whether on the home front or the Western Front.

The reaction of soldiers on the Western Front was at first largely one of relief rather than celebration; much greater jubilation was recorded on the home front, but many people were simply onlookers. The most common response was that loved ones had survived and would now be coming home, or that their deaths and the wider public patriotic commitment had been validated by the victory. Politically, Great Britain emerged from the war victorious, and stronger than before.

The biggest constitutional change and geographical loss for the British was the establishment in of the Irish Free State, meaning that from then on the country became the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Financially, at the end of the war Great Britain was a net overseas creditor, although this included large debts owed by the Russian Empire on which the new Soviet Union later defaulted.

The war was a major contributing factor to the dramatic decline of the Liberal Party, which never again formed the main party in a government. It was progressively replaced by the Labour Party as the representative of organised labour and trades unionism. The extension of the franchise for the December general election included with some anomalies all men aged twenty-one or over, and women aged thirty and over who were householders or married to householders. By comparison with pre-war Great Britain, this marked the start of a new mass politics.

Overall, in comparison to other democracies Great Britain remained socially and culturally a conservative but not backward-looking country. In terms of military achievement and power, the Royal Navy played a critical role as an instrument of the Allied victory. The surrender at the end of the war and later scuttling of most of the German war fleet removed the largest single threat to British security. British military technological achievements were substantial, including the creation of a powerful air force virtually from nothing in four years, and in inventing and introducing the tank as a new weapon of war.

The greatest British achievement was in creating, again from almost nothing, an army that within two years was able to fight on almost equal terms with the German army, seen for decades as the most powerful in the world, and within four years was able to win two decisive campaigns in widely separated and different theatres of war. Just as pre-war British society was simultaneously both homogenous and highly differentiated, so post-war generalisations about any one region or class can obscure a variety of particular cases. The traditional landholding aristocracy was severely weakened by the war and its effects, including through death duties a form of taxation on their estates.

Bibliographic Information

Many middle-class businessmen did well out of the war financially, but more generally the middle class felt their wartime loss of status and authority and feared for their future. The immediate impact of the war on the working class was that many civilians at home enjoyed temporary wartime improvements in their health and standards of living. Remarkably, the same was true of some soldiers even on the fighting fronts, a reflection of how very poor their pre-war quality of life had been. The overall experience and effect of the war was to diminish the upper classes slightly, and to raise the working classes slightly, showing what might be possible in the future.

The war also left a legacy of disability and distress for many working-class veterans, leaving in many cases a sense of bitterness, as well as pressure for reforms. The longer-term British reaction to the war, which was to dwell on their dead and the weakening of existing social certainties, was not based on the size of their loss but on its nature.

The war was one of the greatest British victories, and one of the most popular, but within a very few years of its end no British politician could describe a future war as anything other than a deeply regrettable evil, to be avoided if at all possible. Badsey, Stephen: Great Britain Version 1. International Encyclopedia of the First World War, ed. DOI : Version 1. Great Britain. By Stephen Badsey. Images, myths and forgotten experiences since , Basingstoke Palgrave Macmillan. Great Britain, War Office ed.

Gregory, Adrian: The last Great War. Hull, Isabel V. Lambert, Nicholas A. Mitchell, T. Medical services. Pennell, Catriona: A kingdom united. Reynolds, David: The long shadow.

Bibliographic Information

Roberts, Richard: Saving the city. The great financial crisis of , Oxford Oxford University Press. Searle, Geoffrey Russell: A new England? Peace and war, , , Clarendon Press. Terraine, John: The smoke and the fire. Myths and anti-myths of war, , London Sidgwick and Jackson. Todman, Daniel: The Great War. Myth and memory , London Hambledon Continuum. Ugolini, Laura: Civvies. Metadata Subjects. Author Keywords. GND Subject Headings.

The Great War 1914-1918 (UK Edition) The Great War 1914-1918 (UK Edition)
The Great War 1914-1918 (UK Edition) The Great War 1914-1918 (UK Edition)
The Great War 1914-1918 (UK Edition) The Great War 1914-1918 (UK Edition)
The Great War 1914-1918 (UK Edition) The Great War 1914-1918 (UK Edition)
The Great War 1914-1918 (UK Edition) The Great War 1914-1918 (UK Edition)
The Great War 1914-1918 (UK Edition) The Great War 1914-1918 (UK Edition)

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