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How were civilians affected by the First World War?


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GCSE OCR Modern World History revision presentation - What you need to know about the Home Front in Britain during World War One for your Paper 2 exam.

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How were civilians affected by the First World War?

  1. 1. How were civilians affected by the war? Aims of the lesson: •To consider why and how food was rationed during the war. •To consider the impact of propaganda.
  2. 2. The First World War was a total war, which meant that the entire population was involved and affected – not just the front-line troops. The government took control of many aspects of life which would never have happened in peacetime.
  3. 3. Recruitment Between August 1914 and March 1916, 2.5 million men volunteered for the British army. The recruitment campaign launched by the government in 1914 worked far better than was predicted. Around 750,000 men joined up during the first few weeks of the campaign alone. Sometimes, whole groups of friends from one area joined up together as a ‘pals’ battalion’. However, despite the steady flow of volunteers, there was a high casualty rate at the front, so more troops were needed. By late 1915, the British government was considering conscription (compulsory military service).
  4. 4. This was highly controversial and a debate raged through the winter of 1915-16. the original proposal was for only unmarried men to be conscripted. However, by May 1916 the needs of war and unrest in Ireland meant that the government was given the power to conscript all men aged 18-41 under the Military Services Act. According to the Act: • Only men involved in ‘reserved occupations’, such as munitions work or mining, were exempt from military service. Conscientious objectors (often known as ‘conchies’) had to appear before local tribunals to explain why they refused to fight. (Most conchies joined up to do war work in the medical or support services. About 1500 conchies went to prison until the end of the war.)
  5. 5. Government control – DORA In August 1914 the government passed the Defence of the Realm Act, usually known as DORA. The Act gave the government wide-ranging powers over the media, food production, industry and many other areas. • The government took over the coal mines. Miners were not conscripted into the army and the government fixed profits and wages. • Similar action was taken with the railways and with shipping. Early in 1915 it was clear that private enterprise was unable to supply the munitions the army needed. David Lloyd George became Minister of Munitions. He reorganised production and set up new state-run factories. By the end of the war the government controlled about 20.000 factories.
  6. 6. Food and rationing • DORA also allowed the government to take control of food supplies. Britain did not suffer serious shortages before 1916, but food prices did rise dramatically (about 60 per cent). However, when the German U-boats began to attack shipping on a large scale the situation became serious. • The government tried to increase food production by bringing all available land into production (3 million extra acres of land by 1918). There were also women workers in the Women’s Land Army to help harvest the crops. • However, this was not enough. Voluntary rationing schemes in 1916 and 1917 did not work so the government introduced compulsory rationing in 1918. • Sugar, meat, butter, jam and margarine were all rationed. As a general rule, most people supported rationing because it was fair and kept prices under control. • There was a black market in goods, but penalties under DORA were very severe.
  7. 7. Civilian casualties Civilian casualties were very light in Britain compared to the military casualties. Nevertheless, about 1500 civilians were killed by enemy actions: • In December 1914 German warships shelled towns in north- east England. • In January 1915 giant Zeppelin airships began bombing raids on England. They made a total of 57 raids. • In March 1917 German Gotha bombers began the first of 27 raids on British towns.
  8. 8. Propaganda DORA allowed the government to control newspapers and other media during the war. There was censorship, particularly of the national press. The pacifist newspaper the Tribunal was shut down and the Socialist paper the Daily Herald was closely monitored. However, the general impression of historians it that British people and publishers largely supported the war effort.
  9. 9. • After the war, twelve newspaper owners were given knighthoods for their wartime services. Circulation of patriotic newspapers such as the Daily Express went up dramatically during the war. • Leading authors – Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Hardy and H.G. Wells – all produced patriotic material for no fee. These were bought in their thousands. • Propaganda was aimed directly at children through books, games and toys. This seems to have been the most effective type. • Patriotic films such as For the Empire and The Battle of the Somme reached huge audiences at the cinema (possibly 20 million for The Battle of the Somme). These films were not produced by the government by they were distributed by the War Department. It is also worth noting that The Battle of the Somme was a more realistic view of warfare compared to some of the earlier films made during the war, even though many of the scenes were faked.
  10. 10. How did women contribute to the war effort? When Britain went to war in August 1914, women seemed no nearer getting the vote. Despite this, the women’s movements threw themselves behind the war effort. Of course, even more women who were not part of the suffrage movement also threw themselves into the war effort.
  11. 11. Women on the front line Women did not fight in the trenches but they were close to the front-line action. • The British army soon copied the French system of hospital units in France and Belgium staffed mainly by female nurses. • Thousands of women worked for voluntary organisations. In France and Belgium, the Salvation Army provided soup kitchens, many of which were run by women, for convalescing soldiers and front-line troops as well. • The Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC) was formed in 1918. These women worked mainly as drivers, secretaries and officials on the Western Front.
  12. 12. Women and recruitment • Women members of the Active Service League encouraged young men to enlist. • The Mothers’ Union published posters criticising mothers who stopped their sons joining up.
  13. 13. Women and war work • Government departments took on 200,000 women during the war. • There was a bit more resistance to women workers in industry. Trade unions feared women would work for less and wages for make workers would drop. However, by the end of the war hundreds of thousands of women were working in industry. For example, 800,000 women worked in engineering by the end of the war. • Around 260,000 women worked on Britain’s farms in the Women’s Land Army helping farmers to produce as much food as possible. • Women even kept some of the works football teams going during the war!
  14. 14. Women and munitions The best known work done by women was in the munitions factories. Thousands of women worked in private and government-owned munitions factories. On the one hand, munitions work gave women status and money. On the other hand, it was dangerous work because of the chance of explosions and also adverse health effects of dangerous chemicals in the munitions.