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THE BIG QUESTIONHow was British society changed,1890-1918?
HEADLINE QUESTIONSHow were civilians affected by the war?How effective was government propaganda during the war?Why were some women given the vote in 1918?What was the attitude of the British people at the end of the war towards Germany and the Paris Peace Conference?

CONTENT THAT YOU NEED TO KNOWRecruiting in the early years of the war;New government powers:The Defence of the Realm Act 1914;Conscription, rationing, use of propaganda, and their impact on civilian life.The mood of the British people at the end of the war;The different attitudes about what should happen to Germany.

SKILLS THAT YOU NEED TO DEVELOPEvaluation of image and text based sources of evidence;To use contemporary evidence to answer questions about: motivation; propaganda; purpose; reliability;Comparisons of sources in terms of their reliability and usefulness;Weighing up evidence into groups that support and oppose a statement;Recall relevant and specific own knowledge that can be usedto help explain and contextualise contemporary sources.

If you want to know more about Letchworth's Home Front during the Great War (though not specifically required by the exam board), a lot of the details and events are useful to being able to understand the exam based content. Then you can visit our Wikispace on this topic by clicking on the banner below:
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How were civilians affected by the war?

The image most recognised from the Great War. Minister for War, Lord Kitchener;s Recruitment Poster was an intimidating piece of propaganda that stares at you where ever you are.
The image most recognised from the Great War. Minister for War, Lord Kitchener;s Recruitment Poster was an intimidating piece of propaganda that stares at you where ever you are.
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These satirical maps show Britain from different perspectives, both of these were produced during the Great War (1914-1918), One depicts the British (as John Bull - the male equivalent to Britannia) as a powerful character with the world's most powerful navy, yet the other illustrates the British as an old lady, shying away from European problems. The image of Ireland as a dog could relate to the fact that in Easter 1916 there was an uprising called the Easter Rising, an attempt to break free of British control. This eventually led to the separation of the south of Ireland into a Free State, But for now, during the war many Irish men joined the army to fight for their King, George V.

jbull.gif external image images?q=tbn:ANd9GcS6uj0Uu2LpYX8t4RocEayC_1rvgVq1ikOGQOm0rPCe92JqCM9VaAThe British army in August 1914 was a regular professional army. By European standards it was tiny, about 350,000 men, which led to the Kaiser describing it as a ‘contemptible little army.
  • On 6 August Parliament agreed to increase the army to 500,000. The famous Kitchener poster appeared on 7 August. Recruiting offices were besieged.
  • By the end of August 300,000 men had volunteered. Recruiting was most successful, however, in areas of high unemployment.
  • In September another 600,000 men were called for and 450,000 more had volunteered by the end of the month.
  • Many men volunteered out of a sense of honour and often these were the most highly educated. These were to be the ‘lost generation’, as they became called after the war.
  • By December 1914, an army of 4,000,000 was planned.

In 1914 men rushed to volunteer for the army. It was believed that volunteers would fight more effectively than conscripts.

Why did recruitment become more difficult in 1915?

  • By December 1914 the number of volunteers had fallen to 117,000 and by February 1915 to 88,000.
  • The war was obviously not going to be over by Christmas and news of the conditions at the front and of the casualties was reaching Britain.
  • At first newspapers printed lists of killed and wounded, but as numbers grew the government banned all such lists. Newspapers reacted by leaving blank spaces where the lists would have been.
  • As the war became more and more serious, unemployment fell and wages rose, volunteering had less and less attraction.

How did methods of recruitment change in 1915?

  • Posters became more strident and pointed, with slogans such as ‘What did you do in the Great War Daddy?’ Women were urged to put pressure on their husbands, brothers and sweethearts.
  • The Suffragettes launched the White Feather Campaign, even spitting in the faces of men in civilian clothes on buses.
  • National Registration of all single men was introduced in August 1915, so that they could be called upon if necessary.

The Derby Scheme
  • Lord Derby organised a massive recruitment campaign in late 1915.
  • He asked men to promise to volunteer if they were called. But anyone with a good reason would not be asked to fight.
  • No married men would be taken until all unmarried men were in the army.
  • Its most famous feature was a competition to find a new recruiting song. The winner was ‘Pack up your troubles in your old kitbag’.
  • But the campaign was a failure. By then 2,500,000 men had volunteered. The Derby Scheme proved to the government that conscription was essential.

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  • Conscription is compulsory military service and it was introduced in Britain for the first time by the Military Service Act of January 1916.

Why was conscription introduced?

  • The failure of the Derby Scheme convinced that the government that relying on volunteers would not work.
  • Haig, who became commander-in-chief in December 1915 believed in the ‘big push’ and demanded more men so that he could make a break through on the Western Front.
  • From 1916 to 1918 3,500,000 men were conscripted into the armed forces. There is no evidence that conscripts were any less brave than volunteers.

The Military Service Acts

  • This made all unmarried men between the ages of eighteen and forty-one liable for service in the armed forces. In May 1916 the Act was extended to include married men.

  • Conscripts could claim exemption on any one of four grounds.
- Ill health
- Reserved occupation, this meant that they were employed in an industry of national
- Family responsibility, this meant that they had dependants who would suffer if they were
- Conscientious objection
  • Anyone who claimed exemption had to go before a Military Tribunal and prove that they deserved to be exempt from service. The Tribunals could reach any one of four decisions.
  • Absolute exemption, this meant that the individual was declared to unconditionally exempt from service.
  • Conditional exemption, this meant that the individual was exempted providing that he undertook work of national importance.
  • Exemption from combatant duties, this meant that the individual had to join the armed forces but would not be required to be part of a fighting unit. This usually entailed joining something like an ambulance unit.
  • Rejection, this meant that the individual had to join the army and as subject to normal military discipline.

Conscientious Objectors

  • The Military Service Act produced two groups of Conscientious Objectors.
  • Non-combatants, who were prepared to join the army and performed duties such as medical orderlies and drivers, and
  • Absolutists, who refused to accept any form of military discipline and would not join the army.
  • The numbers of Absolutists was very small, probably less than 16,000, but they proved a very difficult problem for the government, especially as the army was determined to increase its reserve of manpower at all costs.

What happened to Absolutists?

  • They could be ordered to join the army, where they were subject to military discipline. If they refused to obey orders they could be court-martialled and even shot.
  • They could be sent to prison, where they would be sentenced to hard labour. Ten conscientious prisoners died in prison and another twenty died soon after release as a result of the conditions they were forced to endure.
  • From June 1916 conscientious objectors were sent to Home Office Work Centres.
  • At Dyce near Aberdeen, conditions were so cold and harsh (tents were the only accommodation throughout the year) that pneumonia broke out and several men died.
  • At Broxbourne in Hertfordshire, the usual job was handling the rotting corpses of animals.
  • At Princeton on Dartmoor, COs (as they became called) broke rocks or stitched mailbags like convicted criminals.
  • Conditions in the Home Office Work Centres improved after 1916, but they were not closed until April 1919, six months after the war ended.
  • By that time 73 Conscientious Objectors had died and another thirty-one had been driven insane by their treatment.

New government powers and their impact on civilian life

  • The Defence of the Realm Act was passed in August 1914 at the outbreak of the First World War.
  • It gave the government extensive powers, many of which were never used, for example, the following all became illegal; writing letters in code, using a camera without a permit, lighting bonfires, ringing church bells, buying binoculars, feeding bread to dogs and horses.
  • More serious were restrictions on hoarding food and profiteering and the fact that suspected spies could be held without trial.
  • Trade Union rights were limited and the government took the power to control rents and prices and seize land and horses.
  • In 1916 British Summer Time was introduced for the first time and the opening hours of public houses were limited.
  • Alcoholic drinks were watered down and buying rounds of drinks was banned. Convictions for drunkenness fell from 3388 in 1914 to 449 in 1918.

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Percentages of food imported in 1913
- Sugar 100
- Butter 65
- Cheese 80
- Bacon 65
- Wheat 80
- Fruit 40

  • The Defence of the Realm Act (D.O.R.A.)external image images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQKs1viCNjEmAqvG4EypcrEMnqVaZ286OFMEbeyYNglp0i77SKwYQ
    gave the government the power to start rationing food, but this had little effect until 1917, when German U-boats began to sink British ships in the Atlantic.
  • The government tried to set up voluntary schemes, but they did not work and some shopkeepers and local councils began to run their own schemes.
  • Food production was taken over and rationing was introduced in January 1918. This was more because of hoarding by than because stocks of food were low.
  • At first it only applied to meat, but in July 1918 sugar, butter, margarine and cooking fat were added.
  • Food sold in restaurants was also controlled.
  • Rationing had the effect of increasing food consumption, because most people bought their full rations, even if they did not actually need them or want them.
  • The government then introduced further restrictions.
  • Restaurant meals were controlled and there were food queues in March 1918, but rationing was never serious.
  • Rations per person per week in ounces in 1918
- Meat 16
- Butter and fats 4
- Sugar 8
  • No other foods were rationed.

War Socialism

  • Rationing was introduced after David Lloyd Georg became prime minister in 1916. He ended the policies of Herbert Asquith and set out to win the War at all costs.
  • In 1917, Lloyd George introduced the convoy system to try to ensure that essential supplies reached Britain from the USA and Canada.
  • He took over five industries and ran then in the interests of the war economy; this became known as ‘war socialism’.
  • The industries were transport, ship-building, food production, labour and mining,
  • Labour became ‘directed’; this meant that the government could order people to work in key industries
  • Lloyd George's actions marked a complete change in government policy.
  • This was the first time that the British government had assumed such responsibility for the people of Britain and for its economy.

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How effective was government propaganda during the war?



  • At first the main method of propaganda was posters, which publicised so-called German atrocities.
  • Some, like the shelling of Scarborough and Hartlepool, the sinking of the Lusitania and the execution of Nurse Edith Cavell were true.
  • There were also completely false stories about the ‘Belgian Priests’ and the ‘Babies on Bayonets’ story. Most people seemed to have believed them.
  • The stories were intended to make British people hate Germans and volunteer to fight.
  • The Great Body Scandal was a story published in 1917 that stated that the Germans collected the dead bodies of British Soldiers and turned them into fat.
  • In fact the Germans only collected the dead bodies of horses.
  • This story was not officially denied until 1925.

The Lusitania

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  • The Lusitania was a liner, which was sunk on 8 May 1915 by a German submarine.
  • The sinking led to furious protests by the US government as 128 passengers were US citizens.
  • The Lusitania was sunk because it was carrying contraband (goods for the war).
  • It had 4,927 boxes of cartridges, 1,248 cases of shrapnel and 3,863 boxes of cheese and 696 tubs of butter mysteriously addressed to the Naval experimental Establishment.

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The use of film

  • From 1915 films were made to encourage support for the war effort, and in 1916 the ‘Battle of the Somme’ film was shown in cinemas all over Britain.
  • It was watched by more than 20,000,000 people, still a record for any film in Britain. There were no scenes of fighting and no dead bodies.
  • But it produced anti-war feelings because of the trench conditions that it revealed.

The Battle of the Somme (1916)

  • From 1917 the Department of Information produced films and the National War Aims Committee published leaflets and held rallies. In 1918 the Ministry of Information was set up under Lord Beaverbrook.
  • Propaganda played an important part in persuading the people of the USA to support the war.

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Why were some women given the vote in 1918?

Loss of the household suffrage

  • In 1916 a new register of voters was compiled. The government realised that many men who had served in the war were no longer able to vote.
  • All of the volunteers and conscripts had lost their property qualification, as they had not been resident in the country.
  • Men got the vote because they had been conscripted during the war and forced to fight and die for their country.
  • It would have looked very unfair if men who had fought for their country had lost the right to vote.

Votes for women

  • In 1918 all men got the vote at 21 and women got the vote at 30. But women had to be householders or married to a householder.
  • This was a good opportunity for the government to give the vote to women as well. Herbert Asquith, who had been against votes for women before 1914, spoke in favour in 1916.
  • Women also got the vote because of all the work that they had done during the war. They had proved that they were responsible.
  • It also did not appear as if the government was giving in to the threats of the Suffragettes.
  • The government may also have been concerned at the possibility of a revival of the Suffragettes. activity had been suspended in 1914, but Christabel Pankhurst had kept the Suffragette movement going during the war.
  • At the last minute the government realised that although women had been given the vote, they had not been given the right to stand to be MPs.
  • The Eligibility of Women Act was passed, which allowed women to stand for Parliament.
  • Despite the changes, women were only given the vote under the old household franchise. Some people regarded this as an experiment.

What was the attitude of the British people at the end of the war towards Germany and the Paris Peace Conference?

  • In November 1918 there was little sympathy for Germany or the German people in Britain. Headlines like ‘Hang the Kaiser’ and ‘Make Germany Pay’ were common.
  • Great Britain had not suffered anything like the same amount of damage as France.
  • There had been no fighting in Britain, but some coastal towns had been shelled by German warships and the big cities had been bombed by Zeppelins and 'Gotha' bombers. The British people wanted revenge.
  • The cost of victory had been enormous. £850,000,000 had been borrowed from US banks and this would have to be paid back.
  • £1,750,000,000 had been lent to Russia and this was never paid back, because the Bolshevik government refused to repay the debts of the Tsar. Great Britain was heavily in debt.
  • The Great War cost £5,700,000 a day, and income tax had been raised from 6p to 30p.
  • But the government had also had to borrow heavily and now there were debts which had to be repaid.
  • Britain had lost 704,000 men killed during the war. Whole villages and parts of towns had lost almost all there young men, and many others were crippled and injured, not surprisingly there was little sympathy for the Germans.
  • At the general election in December 1918, the Prime Minister David Lloyd George promised to 'Make Germany Pay'.
  • He demanded that Germany should be 'Squeezed until the Pips Squeaked'.
  • The British people expected that Germany would be made to pay for the effects of the war.
  • But when Lloyd George got to Versailles he adopted a different approach. He was concerned that if Germany was punished too hard, then there would be trouble in the future.
  • Lloyd George wanted Germany to be allowed to recover. However, he could not say things like that in public as the British people would not have agreed.