War is declared
Although the front line was in mainland Europe, the effects of War were being felt at home in Britain. Britain declared war on Germany on the 4th August 1914. In Britain, as in much of Europe, street parties happened celebrating the decision to go to war because it encouraged patriotic pride. British people crowed The Mall outside Buckingham Palace, the home of King George V, in London and sang ‘God Save The King’.
Joining the Army
The swell of patriotic pride led many men, young and old, to join the armed forces the day after war was announced. Over 750,000 joined the cause with the first call for people to do their bit for the war effort. Most people thought that the war would be won by Christmas 1914 but the war didn’t end until 1918. As the war continued, new recruit numbers became lower and on the 2nd March, 1916 the government introduced conscription.
Conscription meant that men who were fit and health and between the ages of 18-40 were required to join the military. Some men were exempt from military service such as men who were widowed with children or men who worked in important positions in the church. Conscription was introduced under the Military Service Act. Men could argue that they were unable to go to war but they had to make a very good case. Some young boys were eager to fight for King and Country and lied about their age. Boys as young as 15 were sent to war!
The Order of the White Feather
Men who did stay at home were shamed or mocked by individuals who had loved ones fighting in Europe. A very public way to shame men was to hand them a white flower or feather. It was meant to be a symbol of how much of a coward those men were regardless of their belief or circumstance. It was widely believed that all men should fight and presenting a white feather to men not in uniform soon became a campaign.
The Defense of the Realm Act
Four days after war was announced the government introduced The Defense of the Realm Act, also known as DORA. The act, passed on the 8th August 1914, gave the government the power to enact emergency measures so that the war effort could continue. Buildings such as factories could be made to stop production and their effort redirected to make guns or shells for the Ministry of Munitions.
Farmers could be made to grow certain crops or bakers made to bake only brown bread if it helped the war effort. In fact, baking white bread became illegal by the end of the war!
The government limited the reports of war news and encouraged journalists to deliver upbeat, positive stories. Often, these stories over exaggerated and glorified small military victories. Some publications were even banned as it was believed they would have a negative effect on national spirit.
Radio and newspapers let the country know what victories the troops has won whilst allowing them to feel their own sacrifices were helping the cause. The government also commissioned a very successful poster campaign to help spread information and inspire wartime spirit.
Work and Industry
Workplaces were traditionally dominated by men during this period in history with women mostly being in the domestic or care services such as housekeeping. With most of the country’s men away fighting the war, women, young boys and men unable to fight for various reason became the British workforce. Women began learning skills that they had never had access to before. Other industries made changes so that unskilled women workers could also join the workforce. This would eventually contribute to them partially gaining the vote in 1918.
DORA brought the introduction of British summer time which allowed longer working hours. Nearly all areas of industry were directed to war effort.
Living in Wartime Britain
Mail, both received by and sent out of Britain was read and censored so that information wasn’t overlooked or leaked out of the country.
Up until 1917 it was mainly the poorer families who felt the full extent of the burden war was putting on the home front. Industry was devoted to supplying the front line and so caused consumer items to become less available and inflation soon followed. Finally, it was a series of U-boat bombings that caused panic buying that made the government introduce rationing.
Life was affected early on by Zeppelin bombing that started in 1915. Zeppelin’s are big airships that look like big hot air balloons. The German forces sent them over to Britain to destroy military targets. Unfortunately there were also civilian casualties as cities began to be bombed. The government then introduced blackouts. These blackouts meant that people were forced to cover windows and turn out lights so that aircraft in the night skies above couldn’t see lights to find where the cities were.
Many children became orphaned during WW1. The frontline claimed the lives of a large amount of the men that went to war. Dangerous jobs making munition shells with explosives often led to accidents that claimed the lives of mothers.
Everything contributed to the war effort. Pubs closed early and the strength of alcohol was decrease so that people didn’t get drunk and could still work. Foreign nationals had a curfew, scouts and girl guides helped during blackouts and even whistling was banned in case it was mistaken for an air raid siren!