The effects of the First World War on British people between 1914 and 1918

The First World War affected British people wherever they were. There was no real fighting in Britain, but the war was brought home to them through food rationing, death of their loved ones etc. Soldiers who survived will always remember horrors of trench warfare, but First World War also gave a boost ot technology so that planes and tanks were developed much faster than they would have been in the peace time. Trench warfare is probably an experience which every soldier is going to remember the most of all experience he had in the Great War.

Soldiers lived in these “dugouts” waiting for the right opportunity to get “over the top” and “no man’s land” to break the enemy lines. Trench warfare was very difficult for the soldiers; the conditions they had to put up with in the trenches were appalling. Hygiene in the trenches was terrible-soldiers wore same clothes for weeks and same pair of socks for as much as a week (water and food supply were limited so soldier’s clothes couldn’t be washed). As a result they started suffering from trench foot and lice.

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Trench foot is caused by standing in mud and water for long hours and the only way it could be prevented is by treating feet with whale oil and keeping them clean, but this was impossible as soldiers had to wear same socks for a week. British doctors working in military hospitals noticed patients suffering from “shell shock”. Early symptoms included tiredness, irritability, giddiness, lack of concentration and headaches. Eventually the men suffered mental breakdowns making it impossible for them to remain in the front-line.

The huge amount of shells fired in the battle of Somme and Passchendaele was going to make a lot of soldiers suffer from “shell-shock”. Many innovations were brought in the war in order to break the deadlock on the western front. The three main ones were gas, tanks and planes. Gas shells were used for the first time by Germans in the battle Ypres Salient. This gave a totally new dimension to the war because at first weren’t any appropriate gas masks so soldiers had to use pads were held over the face until the soldiers could escape from the poisonous fumes.

By July 1915 soldiers were given efficient gas masks and anti-asphyxiation respirators. The enemy could use the panic the gas created in the opposing camp to infiltrate it The tanks were used for the first time by the British in the battle of Somme. This was a rather unsuccessful attempt to break the deadlock on the western front. The tanks in September 1916 were not advanced enough to be used successfully. They were breaking down often, inside the tank it was very hot, cramped, noisy and fume- filled.

When the trench warfare started planes started playing a much bigger role in the war, both sides started to use planes for surveillance of the enemies troop movements and trenches, shooting down enemy spy planes (first with a machine gun fixed on the wings and later there was a built in machine gun) and for bombardment of the enemy-at first bombs were dropped by hand but in 1917 there was a bomb dropping mechanism developed. The improvements and the important role of aviation during the First World War led founding a third armed force the RAF on the 1st April 1918.

British government used military conscription in 1916 for the first time in British history. At first only single men between the age of 18 and 41 were called up but by 1918 all men up to fifty one were being conscripted into the army. About 16,000 called conscientious objectors men refused to fight. Most of these men were pacifists, who believed that even during wartime it was wrong to kill another human being. About 7,000 pacifists agreed to perform non-combat service. This usually involved working as a stretcher-bearer in the front-line. Over 1,500 men refused all compulsory service.

These men were called absolutists and were drafted into military units and if they refused to obey the order of an officer, they were court-martialled under the charge of being traitors of their own country. In wars that took place before the First World War there were no battles on the land of Great Britain, but in the winter 1914/1915 coastal towns of Scarborough and Hartlepool were bombarded by German ships; zeppelins and bombers attacked the south-east England especially London from December 1914. In total there were 84 attacks on Britain from the air resulting in 1,399 deaths and 3,360 injuries.

These attacks brought war closer to home and were a cause for alarm and concern in Britain; it is very likely that there was a lot of panic among the civilians because they were in danger for the first time. Before the conscription was introduced there were already 2. 46 (29% enrolled in August/September 1914) million people by January 1916 who had enlisted voluntarily into the army. This is mostly owed to a huge out pour of patriotism during the war. Men wanted to support their country and felt that they owed something to it because they got a right to vote not long before the war started.

The increase in patriotism was aided by the propaganda campaign which encouraged people to join the army. The government used posters which would show inhuman ruthlessness of the Central power and superhuman heroism of British soldiers. As the numbers of men who went to fight and died were huge it is highly likely that every family will have somebody who fought and died or has been wounded in it. Also the number of men seen in public places would have been much smaller than in the peace time (if men weren’t on the front fighting then they would probably be ashamed to show up in public).

The lives of the soldiers who enlisted changed extremely, they didn’t have the physically safe life they had at home but lived always in the contact with death and suffering. As the number of men in the country was getting smaller the role of women was changing. They needed to fill up for the jobs men left empty so the role of women has changed. It was now appropriate to see a women working on a traditionally male job such as a munitions worker or a mechanic in a workshop. Women gained financial independence and could now change their clothes (clothes became more suitable for work) and social behaviour.

They started going out without male company to restaurants and pubs, smoked and drank in public etc. This proved that women were as important as men, thus they gained the right to vote and to stand for parliament in 1918 but only for women over 30 in 1928 changed to all women 21+. There was a huge propaganda campaign during the war in order for the people to help with the war effort. There was a distribution of 8 million recruiting letters and 54 million posters and media was censored. The British government wanted the British people to hate Germans, so more men would join the army.

It hasn’t hesitated to publish posters and newspaper articles which described predominantly untrue rumours about atrocities committed by Germans upon the Allies. Newspapers and radio were censored so that the details of defeats were kept away from public. As a result of such propaganda the British would start hating the Germans as a nation, so people who are British but have a German sounding name or German roots were in danger. Also the propaganda would bring war very near to home especially the atrocities that were described would make people think about all the terrible things taking place on the front line.

Herbert Asquith (Prime Minister) set up a coalition cabinet which contained all the people from the main parties with the exception of Irish MPs. This cabinet was large and it was difficult for it to make a decision when Asquith referred to it. As a result Asquith resigned in favour of Lloyd George who formed a new smaller coalition which was able to run the war more effectively. The government gave itself more control over lives of British people. It has done so by introducing the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA).

DORA gave the government special powers and it stated things which people were not allowed to do (e. g. they were not allowed to melt gold or silver, buy round in pubs, fly kites etc. ) in the war time. Government could prosecute everyone who offended DORA. It could also “confiscate” any land and factories it needed to help the war effort. The government could now increase the production of food ammunition but in turn it took away some civil rights and private property such as factories and its equipment.

The war was an inspiration for many song/poem writes and painters. Songs and poems were used to used during the war to make the soldiers feel better and to make the fighting a bit easier for them. They were also used to calm the terrified soldiers down, boost the morale of the soldiers, to make them laugh etc. Paintings in the First World War usually eyewitness accounts of the front which would bring the horrors of war home to people who don’t know what it looks like to be on the front line.