The British Home Front during WW1

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  • Created on: 08-05-15 17:25

The Government's priorities at war

The First World War was Britain's first total war.A total war affects every level of society, not just the army. Therefore the government put in great effort to control people's everyday lives to make sure they played a part in the war effort.

In 1914, Britain had a small, prfessional army - the British Expeditionary Force. Since this was a total war, the country could not only count on the army to fight and so had to recruit civilians.

The government introduced DORA,the Defence Of the Realm Act. This gave them more control over the country, allowing them to seize any land that was needed for the war effort, even if it was privately owned. It also allowed them to control the media.

In 1914, the government's priorities were:

1. Food

2. Recruitment

3. Weapons

4. Morale

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Due to DORA, the government could use plots of land for farm production. In February 1917, the Women's Land Army was set up to recruit women as farm workers.

By then the food supply was desperate, with 1 in 4 merchant ships being sunk by the Germans. There was only 6 weeks of wheat left in the entire country. This meant that food prices rose, and since wages had stayed around the same throughout the war, it became increasingly difficult for families to feed themselves. There were even strikes over these poverty-level wages, and in South Wales, the government decided to increase wages for the families.

In 1917, voluntary rationing was introduced on bread, with the Ninepenny loaf being a loaf with a constant price that wouldn't rise or fall. However, this was not very effective and so in 1918 compulsory rationing on butter, sugar, meat and beer was introduced.

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Recruitment: Since in 1914, Britain only had the BEF, propaganda was introduced to persuade people to join the army. There were leaflets and posters, and recruitment offices were introduced. Lord Kitchener was the Minister of War, the man in charge of recruitment. As well as this, the strong anti-German feeling was intensified with stories of German atrocities, such as babies being butchered in Belgium or the German factory where soap was made out of boiled-up corpses.

In 1916, however, conscription was introduced.The number of volunteers was dropping, and the most fit and able were not volunteering. The volunteering was becoming dangerous for agriculture, too, as miners were volunteering, leaving too few people to mine the essential coal. The voluntary recruitment was also seen as unfair, as not everyone took equal share of the burden.

Conscription meant that all men aged 18-40 who were fit for service and who did not have an essential job (e.g. farmer) were sent to war. However, not everyone agreed with conscription - 50 MPs voted against it, including leading Liberals.

Another group who was against conscription were the conscientious objectors. They believed in peace and did not want to fight. They therefore had to stand before a tribunal and explain why they objected. Some were put in prison, and some were sent to work as stretcher-bearers or in field hospitals.

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Munitions and Morale


In 1915, a munitions crisis started - there was a shortage of munitions and munitions workers. This meant that the soldiers on the front line were restricted to only 3 rounds of ammunition a day. To solve this problem, the government went into coalition, with the best politicians from all parties joining together. This meant that they could help supprot the war effort. Lloyd George was made Minister of Munitions. He forced women to work in munitions factories and paid them the same as men, as the trade unions had asked. In 1916 the situation began to  improve.


DORA gave the government control over the media. At the start of the war, only the good news were reported, and the bad news were just ignored. The heads of the newspapers were total supporters of the war. All bad news were censored, and all balanced or anti-war articles were banned from newspapers. Socialist newspapers were closely monitored. Even railway enthusiasts were in trouble for revealing too much about Britain's rail network.

Toys and books also showed support for the war and influenced children and readers.

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Types of propaganda:

Films - shown in cinemas, showing real footage AND fake scenes of the battlefield. One of the most famous propaganda films was "The Battle of the Somme".

Books - the Red Book was a 5 volume book published to justify Britain's involvement in the war. 

Toys - propaganda for children was made through toys - showing the brave Tommys.

Purposes of propaganda:

To boost morale - morale was needed to keep the support of the people. Throughout the war people began to realise that the war was not actually going to be over by Christmas, but propaganda played on the fact that the anti-German hatred was still there. The government did nothing to stop lies about German atrocities from being published. The War Propaganda Bureau even concluded (though on very little evidence) that these stories were true. 

Impact of propaganda:

Reinforced the anti-German feeling and persuaded neutral countries to support the Allies.

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After the War - The Treaty of Versailles

The war was ended by an Armistice on the 11th November 1918 at 11am.

In 1919, the Treaty of Versailles was created by the main leaders of Europe, excluding Germany. It said that Germany had to pay £6.6 billion of reparations for the damage caused by the war. It also said that Germany's army had to be reduced to only 100,000 men. Germany also had to hand over all of its colonies to the UK and France.

The Big Three:

Georges Clemenceau - France. He thought that Germany should be punished severely for the damage it had caused in France. He wanted to make Germnay pay and wanted to weaken Germany so much that it couldn't invade France again.

David Lloyd George - the UK. He wanted justice but not revenge. To please the English people he talked about making Germany pay, but in reality wanted to reopen links with Germany as trading partners and wanted to expand the British Empire.

Woodrow Wilson - the USA. He wanted peace and didn't want to punish Germany in order to secure the future. He wanted a League of Nations where issues were discussed democratically and fairly.

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