World War 1 was Britain's first "total war". This means that it was the first time that the war affected every level of society, not just the small professional army fighting overseas. Here, the war affected ordinary people too.
The Home Front is what was happening at home, in Britain, in everyday people's lives, as they tried to survive through war and help the soldiers fighting as best they could.
There are several aspects linked to the Home Front in Britain:
1. Recruitment and Conscription
2a. The Munitions Crisis
2b. The Food Crisis
3. Propaganda and Censorship
War broke out on 2nd August 1914. Previously, there had only been a small professional British army, the British Expeditionary Force, so there was a huge demand for soldiers. Recruitment was carried out in several ways - propaganda (films, posters, leaflets), recruitment offices set up in every town and stirring speeches from politicians.
The recruitment campaign was very successful - there was already a strong anti-German feeling from the people, and so many young men signed up to fight - there was huge optimism, with many people believing that the war would be over by Christmas - by 1916, over 2 million young men had signed up.
Conscription Part 1
Conscription was introduced on 25th January 1916. It meant that all men aged 18-40 in a non-essential job had to fight.
Reasons for the introduction of conscription:
1. The number of volunteers was falling - people were receiving news from fighting relatives about the awful conditions of the war and the early optimism of the war had gone. By December 1915, the number of young men volunteering was at its lowest ever.
2. There was a huge demand for troops - as more men were being wounded and killed, they needed to be replaced, so more men were needed to fight.
3. Volunteering was damaging agriculture and industry - the strong, fit miners and farmers were volunteering when they were in fact needed to supply Britain's food and coal needs.
4. Volunteering was unfair - the fittest and strongest were not volunteering.
Conscription Part 2
Opposition to Conscription:
- 50 MPs opposed the bill when it was passed, including leading Liberals
Conscientious Objectors, or conchies, opposed the war and refused to sign up for various moral, religious or political reasons. They opposed conscription, and for this reason had to stand before a tribunal and justify why they were not helping the war effort. Some were sent to prison and even executed, however some were sent to the front line to help in field hospitals or to be stretcher-bearers.
Conchies were publicly shamed - they were considered cowards and also traitors as people thought that they did not want Britain to win the war, when most of the time conchies merely refused to take part in active warfare. The Order of the White Feather even encouraged women to give conchies a white feather so tnat they could be publicly recognised and shamed - some women even gave white feathers to their own husbands. This embarrassed some conchies, leading them to sign up and go and fight.
DORA - The Munitions crisis
On the 8th August 1914, the government passed the Defence of the Realm Act - an act allowing them to seize any land needed for the good of the war, take over industries important to the war effort and control and censor the media, including newspapers.
In July 1915, a shortage of munitions occurred - there was not enough shells, bullets or armaments on the Western Front (there were some reports that soldiers were rationed to three rounds of ammo a day!). As a result of this problem, a coalition government so taht all parties could work together to support the war effort. David Lloyd George became Minister of Munitions.
Under DORA, Lloyd George introduced measures to supply munitions. One problem was the shortage of skilled workers in the munitions factories. As a result of this, Lloyd George worked with Mrs. Pankhurst to employ women in the factories. At first, the trade unions resisted, until Lloyd George agreed for the women's wages to equal men's, and for them not to be kept on when the men returned. He also set up his own government factories which employed mostly women.By the end of 1915, the situation had improved.
DORA - The Food crisis
DORA gave the government power to take over plots of land to grow food for the country. In February 1917, the Women's Land Army was set up to recruit women as farm workers. In April 1917, the food situation became desperate when German U-boats began to sink 1 in 4 British merchant ships. Britain only had 6 weeks' supply of wheat left for the entire country! As food supplies ran short, the cost of food went up. Wages were still low, so people couldn't afford to buy food. This resulted in strikes, particularly in South Wales.
In response to this, the government raised people's wages in order for people to afford food. In May 1917, it introduced voluntary rationing. In November 1917, the government introduced emasures to control the price of bread - The Ninepenny Loaf, which was guarenteed to remain the same price no matter what happened to food supplies.
However, this was not effective enough, so on 25th February 1918, compulsory rationing was introdued on sugar, butter, meat and beer. This was controlled using ration coupons. This system was fairer and more effective - by the end of the war, as a result of rationing, the diet of the working classes had in fact improved since before the war!
Propaganda and Censorship 1
Due to DORA, the government had control over all of the media and in particular the news.This helped to influence people's opinions on the war in order to maintain morale.
There were different types of propaganda and censorship:
1. Censored news
From the start of the war, only good news was reported on - any bad news was simply ignored. The heads of the newspaper companies were huge supporters of the war. Some newspapers did publish balanced or anti-war articles, however, they were swiflty closed down or carefully monitored. Everything was censored in order for the public to not know everything about what was going on.
Propaganda and Censorship Part 2
Books were mostly pro-war. Authors signed a contract saying that they were in support and only published positive, patriotic publications. The Red Book was a 5 volume book justifying Britains involvement in the war.
Propaganda was aimed at children too - toys were made to encourage support for the war and there were many patriotic books and comics. The Germans were portrayed as cowardly and treacherous and the British as modest, brave and successful. These books and toys sold well and were very popular with children.
Many propaganda films were created in support of the war. They were played at the start of films and were compulsory viewing for everyone. They used both real and fake footage of the war to gain support for the war. A famous example is The Battle of the Somme, a film combining real and fake footage showing the events of the Battle. It was hugely popular among the public.
When the war broke out, both the suffragettes and the suffragists suspended their activities to help with the war effort. All suffragettes were released from prison. They helped to boost recruitment and aided the Order of the White Feather.
When the munitions crisis occurred, women began to work in the munitions factories. The conditions were atrocious and incredibly dangerous, and yet many women were happy to finally be able to work. Although employers were reluctant to give women jobs, they soon realised that women were just as capable as men were.
This is one of the reasons why, in December 1917, women were finally given the vote. They had proved themselves worthy of it in men's eyes. They voted for the first time in the General Election on 14th December 1918.