At the beginning of the war society was different. For a lot of people, poverty, social and economic disruption was normal. Literacy was fairly general and the society was mainly Christian and was very religious, therefore there were frequent Bible readings. The upper classes were better classed with leisure and comfortable living conditions. They had servants, which were mainly women, who worked in the ‘domestic service’. There was little mixing between domestic and industrial working classes. When war broke out in 1914, the impact was disruptive. There was a rapid increase in unemployment, especially of women who had also worked before because of poverty. The stock market crashed which resulted in food prices increasing and panic buying. The First World War affected the people of Britain in so many different ways but the question is why?
The war affected both the people directly involved in the war and the civilian population. The men were affected because the war demanded hem to fight, so they played a vital role. When war was declared thousands of men volunteered to join, the 247,000 regular soldiers in the British army. The volunteers were affected because if they didn’t recruit then women handed out white feathers to them because they were in civilian clothes. They were known as cowards. They had to leave their jobs causing major disruption in industry. Many of them believed that the war would end by Christmas and they were anxious not to miss it. But they did not know the horrors they were to face. Recruiting campaigns persuaded men to join. They talked about the better world, which would follow victory and whipped up hatred against the Germans. Friends joined up together; some villages and teams lost all their young men on the same day. People never imagined it would be like this.
The Govt then decided to introduce conscription. The conscripted were affected differently from the volunteers because this forced all men aged 18-41 to join the services. This affected the men because they were now forced to leave their jobs. But it didn’t just affect the men; it affected employers because they gained more power over workers because they were able to influence whether or not a worker was conscripted. It affected the women because factory owners realised that they needed women to take on men’s jobs now they were at war. Conscientious objectors were affected by the war differently from the volunteers and conscripts because they were opposed to it. To them the idea of killing was evil and horrific. They were affected by the war because they were sent to non-fighting duties like ambulance work and work camps. When they refused an officer’s order they wee court-martialled and were either shot or sent home in disgrace. Other ‘conchies’ were affected, as they had to serve willingly in the war, accepting the same risks as troops.
Soldiers and Tommies were also affected. They thought the war was an adventure but it soon dawned on them that fighting was futile. They had to put up with the sight, sound and smell of dying, dead and wounded soldiers. The Junior Officers also had to face the same conditions as the soldiers. They had to face horrible living conditions and diseases, like dysentery. Life in the trenches was full of boredom and apprehension punctuated by relatively short periods of intensive noise and fear. No man came through the experience unscathed. The war affected their morale. Soldiers in the trenches always talked about returning to ‘blighty’, which was home in Britain. Soldiers were kept in constant worry. Soldiers started to resent the men who stayed at home without reason and ‘got rich quick’ making use of their knowledge of business to turn war conditions to their advantage. Their experiences at the front had changed them and had cut them off from their old way of life forever.
The Generals on the other hand were affected because the war was now in their hands and they had the responsibility to launch attacks etc. Like the General officers they had better living conditions than the soldiers, had better meals and had better chances of surviving. The Generals had experienced the fighting in different ways. The soldiers were faced with the growing suspicion that the Generals in 1916 either did not know or did not care what the ordinary soldier was suffering. According to the Generals casualties and ‘fatigue were not possibilities studied’ in their ‘war academy’.
The Navy was affected by the war because they had to risk their lives and help blockade the German ports. If they lost the war at sea then the Germans would have had an advantage, being able to stop food supplies getting into Britain. Pilots were affected differently from the Navy because they had to risk their lives flying in planes in which there were few instruments, engines were unreliable and there were no parachutes. It needed courage to fly a plane, let alone fight in one. The war affected them because it turned most air aces into heroes. For most pilots reality was different. By 1916, many boys aged 18 were given brief training and sent into battle. They could accept to live for three week’s. Miners were affected because became at unrest as they thought that the Govt could have produced all the weapons and food it needed during the war without the hard work and co-operation of the unions and workers. But in the war years mining coal was as important as fighting.
Farmers were also affected by the war because they were unable to compete with the cheap imported food from the merchants. Nearly all supplies farmers used to grow were imported so they felt worthless. But by the autumn of 1916, when Britain was growing short of food, the Govt realised that not enough food was produced in Britain so they persuaded the farmers to plough up rough land. The farmers got fixed minimum rates of pay, which encouraged them to sty on the land.
Merchants were also affected but differently because now they had a huge responsibility to take coal, textiles and manufactured goods all over the world. The goods they brought back were essential for the civilian population. Factory workers were affected differently from the merchants because they didn’t have a huge responsibility. Industries like textiles and dressmakers, which employed a lot of women, suffered, as people no longer wanted to buy so many clothes and women lost jobs.
Other countries that helped Britain in the war were also affected but differently to the British. They had to face the destruction aswell and had to face the terrible living conditions. The main groups that helped the British were the Australians, Canadians, Indians, South Africans and the New Zealanders. They had to face dead, dying and wounded soldier’s aswell. The vast resources of the British Empire helped make Britain and its allies hard to beat.
The war affected the women differently from the men because short labour shortages led to recruiting drives for women. It was agreed that women could replace skilled men for wartime only. The working class women were affected differently from the upper class women because they had been seriously exploited at first and worked piece work, but then they got to do men’s jobs and wear men’s clothes in the war. The working class women still didn’t have to work if they wished but they didn’t have any maids help or home help anymore. Women who worked in the farms or as porters had to wear trousers.
This is the reason why the elderly and old fashioned were affected. The elderly didn’t like women to work and wear trousers instead of skirts, like some men they thought that a woman’s place was at home with their children. Old-fashioned women were not used to the idea of trousers instead of skirts. The elderly were also affected because of pension problems and because they felt they had to bear the responsibility of the family. Women now had greater access to independence and freedom. Wives were affected differently from other women because their men were opposed to them working. The men felt threatened. The wives had the responsibility to look after the families. They were in constant worry over the lives of their men.
The war brought about a big change, a lot of women became more confident, before they had less equal rights in marriage and employment. Women with wages started to go to restaurants and clubs, because in 1917 working class wages had risen. But not all women and men accepted the change. Even when they lost their jobs after the war, their confidence was not lost. Women in the 1920’s demanded and received more freedom than they had before the war. But some women like the ‘Women’s International League’ were also affected as they were opposed to the war. Most of them were upper and middle class women. The suffragettes were affected differently from other women because before the war the women were not allowed to vote. They campaigned for the right to vote. They held meetings, smashed windows, burned buildings etc. The war affected them because the Govt had to accept that women could work as well and as responsibly as men could. In 1918, Parliament said that all women over 30, whom were house owners or married to one could vote and in 1928 all women over 21 could vote. Many women wanted to do more like the WPC’s.
Nurses were also affected. There was a great need of them in the war and they weren’t paid and therefore most of them came from upper and middle class women. Vera Brittain nursed dying and wounded soldiers in France. Her life changed because the war turned her into a pacifist and she had to leave her wealth behind. Nurses had to face the same terrible living conditions as the men and they faced the same danger as them too, they could be killed, wounded or gassed.
Poets, writers and artists were also affected by the war because they also had to fight in the war. It affected them, because it made them bitterly angry against the high command, the politicians, even God but rarely against the war itself. Their anger encouraged them to write poems and paint pictures on what they had experienced. They gave their views on the war and poets such as Sassoon, Owen, Gibson, Rosenberg and Brooke, fought in the war and continued to do so, despite their anger. Some troops were very loyal to the war effort aswell, because they were very patriotic and wanted to be heroes.
Families and children were also affected but differently from other civilians, because war had come into their homes, the war had affected and changed family life. They had to accept casualties, which affected them permanently. Deaths were tragedies for families. Children grew up without fathers, widows grew old without husbands; young women stayed unmarried and childless all their lives. The men who died could have grown up to be talented doctors, designers, engineers, politicians and plumbers. They were known as the ‘lost generation’. Infant mortality had also decreased because most men had died and women became widowers. For some children the war was an adventure, a new experience, they wanted to go fight in the war and become a ‘man’.
Civilians were affected long term. Propaganda led most people into believing that the war as great and victory was to be theirs. But propaganda was discovered and civilians became angry at how newspapers had hidden the truth from the ordinary people. Strikes and campaigns became popular and because the impact of losses seemed so unequal, people began to look for unfairness, to target ‘shirkers’, ‘profiteers’, and especially ‘enemy aliens’. There were ugly emotions and some developed anti-Semitism. British people became suspicious of foreigners living in there midst, much believed propaganda about German atrocities. They turned on the Germans. But the idea of a worthwhile ‘sacrifice’ held everything together and reinforced the determination for victory. But many were affected differently because the war, bombing and gassing had scared them and had made them aware of the future.
Poor people were affected the worst because they showed signs of malnutrition 1918. The U-boat campaign had made food supplies short. People began to hoard food; prices rose and food queues became common. In April 1917, the Govt introduced voluntary food rationing which became compulsory in 1918. The result of rationing made everybody have certain amounts of food only. So people starved lesser and food queues vanished and most people had just about enough to eat. Food shortages had affected the people because nearly everybody had to start to keep an allotment where they could grow food.
The working class people were affected as they could not afford to buy meat and sugar and food was only available for those who could afford it from the Black market. But the rich continued to live luxuriously. Another reason why the war affected the civilians was because the war was expensive and they had to be paid for. British people had to had to help pay for it by paying income tax. There was a scheme for people to buy war bonds from them, at the end of the war the money spent on the bonds would be returned to them, plus interest. For the Govt it was a way of borrowing money and for the civilians it was a way of saving. The DORA also affected the civilians. It was the defence of the realm act that gave the Govt special powers to control peoples leisure time and activities. Peoples lives were greatly affected by the DORA as it listed all the things the people were not allowed to do whilst Britain was at war. The aims of the DORA were to prevent food shortages and make it difficult for people to criticise the way the war was being fought. People could not do any activities that were against the war and could not stay out to long etc.
Politicians were also affected by the war but differently from the civilian population because they lived in wealth and from the troops, as they didn’t have to fight. Not all politicians thought that it was right to fight. Some of them were put under great pressure. According to Lord Riddell, ‘Lloyd George was in a difficult position’ himself. But other parties put their support behind the war effort. German attacks on Britain helped to unite the Nation.
The Armistice that ended the war was signed at 5 o’clock in the morning of 11 November 1918. The news travelled rapidly to politicians and people in cities and the troops. Most people wanted the war to end. Their reactions to the war were however very different. Some people cheered and rang out in victory but people like the conscientious objectors were not satisfied, still thinking the war was worthless, and some people mourned for the dead.
So in conclusion the war affected the people of Britain in so many different ways that in my opinion we can’t judge precisely how the different people were affected because they were affected in so many different ways whether it be in long term or short term, permanently or temporarily. So judgement is difficult but we can get a rough idea on how and why they would have been affected by the different aspects of the war. There are more groups than the ones discussed that were also affected such as the Con men but they were illegal anyway, but the major ones hopefully have been dealt with. We can now tell that the Major reason the war affected so many people was because the war lasted so long and economy had been so disrupted at the start of the war and because of inflation. There were many gains achieved from the war but at the same time losses. The gains were that the people were now some what prepared for the future and people like the women got the vote. The losses were that nearly 750, 000 British servicemen were killed, and many people lost their loved ones.