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History of the United Kingdom during World War I


History of the United Kingdom during World War I

See also: Timeline of the United Kingdom home front during World War I
United Kingdom in World War I
A man sits in an armchair, a girl on his knee. The caption reads: 'Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War?'
British First World War propaganda poster
Preceded by Edwardian period
Followed by Interwar period
Monarch George V
Leader(s) Civil
Prime Ministers:
Herbert Henry Asquith, (pre-1916)
David Lloyd George, (post-1916)
William Robertson
John French
Douglas Haig
Royal Navy
"Jackie" Fisher
Henry Jackson
John Jellicoe
Rosslyn Wemyss
British air services
David Henderson
Frederick Sykes
Hugh Trenchard
Godfrey Paine
Timeline of
the United Kingdom during World War I
1914 | 1915 |1916 | 1917 | 1918

The Royal Air Force, for example—and increased in size because of the introduction, in January 1916, of forced conscription for the first time in the kingdom's history as well as the raising of the largest all-volunteer army in history, known as Kitchener's Army, of more than two million men.[1] The outbreak of war has generally been regarded as a socially unifying event,[2] although this view has been challenged by more recent scholarship. In any case, responses in the United Kingdom in 1914 were similar to those amongst populations across Europe.[3]

On the eve of war, there was serious domestic unrest in the UK (amongst the labour and suffrage movements and especially in Ireland) but much of the population rapidly rallied behind the government. Significant sacrifices were made in the name of defeating the Empire's enemies and many those who could not fight contributing to philanthropic and humanitarian causes. Fearing food shortages and labour shortfalls, the government passed legislation such as the

  • Sources for the Study of World War One in Sheffield Produced by Sheffield City Council's Libraries and Archives

External links

  • Beckett, Ian F.W. (2007). The Great war (2 ed.). Longman. Available on Google books.  
  • Beckett, Ian F.W. The Home Front, 1914–1918: How Britain Survived the Great War (2006) excerpt and text search
  • Chandler, David (2003). The Oxford History of the British Army. Oxford University Press.  
  • Encyclopaedia Britannica (12th ed. 1922) comprises the 11th edition plus three new volumes 30-31-32 that cover events since 1911 with very thorough coverage of the war as well as every country and colony. Included also in 13th edition (1926) partly online ** full text of vol 30 ABBE to ENGLISH HISTORY online free
  • Fraser, Hugh. The Representation of the People Act, 1918 with explanatory notes (1918) online
  • Gilbert, Martin (1994). Atlas of World War I. Oxford University Press.  
  • Mitchell, T.J. (1931). Casualties and Medical Statistics of the Great War. London: Reprinted by Battery Press (1997).  
  • Palmer, Alan; Palmer, Veronica (1992). The Chronology of British History. London: Century Ltd.  
  • Powers, Barry D (1976). Strategy without slide-rule: British air strategy, 1914–1939. Taylor & Francis.  
  • Sondhaus, Lawrence (2001). Naval Warfare, 1815–1914. New York: Routledge.  
  • Tucker, Spencer; Roberts, Priscilla Mary (2005). World War I: encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. Available on Google books.  
  • Turner, John, ed. Britain and the First World War (1988)
  • Wilson, Trevor. The Myriad Faces of War: Britain and the Great War 1914–1918 (1989) excerpt and text search 864pp; covers both the homefront and the battlefields
  • Winter, Jay, and Jean-Louis Robert, eds. Capital Cities at War: Paris, London, Berlin 1914–1919 (2 vol. 1999, 2007), 30 chapters 1200pp; comprehensive coverage by scholars vol 1 excerpt; vol 2 excerpt and text search

Politics and royalty

  • Available on Google books.  
  • Bourne, J M (2001). Who's who in World War One. Routledge.  
  • Bradford, Sarah (1989). King George VI. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.  
  • Gilbert, Bentley. David Lloyd George: Organizer of Victory 1912–1916 (1992)
  • Grigg, John. Lloyd George: From Peace to War 1912–1916 (1985)
  • Grigg, John. Lloyd George: War Leader 1916–1918 (2002)
  • Hennessey, Thomas (1998). Dividing Ireland, World War I and Partition, The Irish Convention and Conscription. Routledge.  
  • Paddock, Troy R E (2004). A call to arms: propaganda, public opinion, and newspapers in the Great War. Greenwood Publishing Group.  
  • Pennell, Catriona (2012). A Kingdom United: Popular Responses to the Outbreak of the First World War in Britain and Ireland. Oxford University Press.  
  • Roberts, Andrew (2000). The House of Windsor. London: Cassell and Co.  
  • Thornton-Cook, Elsie (1977). Royal Marys, Princess Mary and Her Predecessors. Ayer Publishing.  
  • Turner, John. British Politics and the Great War: Coalition and Conflict 1915–1918 (1992)
  • Ziegler, Philip (1991). King Edward VIII: The official biography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.  


  • Beaumont, Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War (2014)
  • Beaumont, Joan (1995). Australia's War, 1914–1918. St Leonards: Allen & Unwin.  
  • Fogarty, Richard S., and David Killingray. "Demobilization in British and French Africa at the End of the First World War." Journal of Contemporary History (2015) 50#1 pp: 100–123.
  • McCreery, Christopher (2005). The Order of Canada. University of Toronto Press. Available on Google books.  
  • Olson, James (1996). Historical Dictionary of the British Empire. Greenwood Publishing Group.  
  • Morrow, John Howard (2005). The Great War: An Imperial History. Routledge.  
  • Pierce, John (Spring 1992). "Constructing Memory: The Vimy Memorial" (PDF). Canadian Military History 1 (1–2): 5–14. Retrieved 2009-05-17. 


  • Adams, R. J. Q. "Delivering the Goods: Reappaising the Ministry of Munitions: 1915–1916." Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies (1975) 7#3 pp: 232–244 in JSTOR
  • Adams, R. J. Q. Arms and the Wizard: Lloyd George and the Ministry of Munitions. (1978)
  • Ashworth, William. An Economic History of England, 1870–1939 (1960)
  • Baker, Charles Whiting (1921). Government control and operation of industry in Great Britain and the United States during the World War. New York: Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2009-05-18.  As available from
  • Barnett, Margaret. British food policy during the First World War (Routledge, 2014)
  • Hancock, W.K. and M. M. Gowing. British War Economy (1949) pp 3–40
  • Hurwitz, Samuel J. (1949). State Intervention in Great Britain: Study of Economic Control and Social Response, 1914–1919. Routledge.  
  • Whetham, Edith H. The Agrarian History of England and Wales: Volume VIII: 1914–39 (Cambridge University Press, 1978), pp 70–123

Propaganda and popular culture

  • Bell, Stuart. "‘Soldiers of Christ arise’: Religious Nationalism in the East Midlands during World War I." Midland History 39.2 (2014): 219–235.
  • Field, Clive. "Keeping the Spiritual Home Fires Burning: Religious Belonging in Britain during the First World War." War & Society 33.4 (2014): 244–268.
  • Green, Leanne. "Advertising war: Picturing Belgium in First World War publicity." Media, War & Conflict 7.3 (2014): 309–325.
  • Haste, Cate. Keep the home fires burning: Propaganda in the First World War (Lane, Allen, 1977)
  • Hynes, Samuel. A war imagined: the First World War and English culture (2011)
  • Kennedy, Kate. "‘A music of grief’: classical music and the First World War." International Affairs 90.2 (2014): 379–395.
  • Lasswell, Harold D.. Propaganda Technique in World War I. (1927)
  • Lonsdale, Sarah. "“Roast Seagull and other Quaint Bird Dishes” The development of features and “lifestyle” journalism in British newspapers during the First World War." Journalism Studies (2014): 1–16.
  • Millman, Brock. Managing Domestic Dissent in First World War Britain (Routledge, 2014)
  • Monger, David. Patriotism and Propaganda in First World War Britain: The National War Aims Committee and Civilian Morale (2013) online edition
  • O'Prey, Paul. "Poetry of the First World War: Dispelling the Myths." The RUSI Journal 159.4 (2014): 102–105.
  • Wilkinson, Alan. The Church of England and the First World War (Lutterworth Press, 2014)
  • Williams, Vanessa. "“Welded in a single mass”: Memory and Community in London’s Concert Halls during the First World War." Journal of Musicological Research3.1–3 (2014): 27–38.

Women, family and society

  • Braybon, Gail (1990). Women Workers in the First World War: The British Experience. London: Routledge. 
  • Condell, Diana; Liddiard, Jean (1987). Working for victory?: images of women in the First World War, 1914–18. Routledge. Available on Google books.  
  • Grayzel, Susan R. Women's identities at war: gender, motherhood, and politics in Britain and France during the First World War . UNC Press Books, 1999.
  • Gregory, Adrian (2008). The Last Great War: British Society and the First World War. Cambridge. 
  • Law, Cheryl (1997). Suffrage and power: the women's movement, 1918–1928. I.B. Tauris. Available on Google books.  
  • Marwick, Arthur (1965) The Deluge: British Society and the First World War ISBN 0-393-00523-2
  • Peel, Mrs. C.S. (Dorothy Constance) (1929) How We Lived Then, 1914–1918: a Sketch of Social and Domestic Life in England during the War, London: Bodley Head
  • Shields, Rosemary, and Linda Shields. "Dame Maud McCarthy (1859–1949): Matron-in-Chief, British Expeditionary Forces France and Flanders, First World War." Journal of medical biography (2015): 0967772013480610.

Historiography and memory

  • Braybon, Gail (2005). Evidence, History and the Great War: Historians and the Impact of 14–18. Berghahn Books.  
  • Gaffney, Angela. Aftermath: Remembering the Great War in Wales (1998)
  • Korte, Barbara and Ann-Marie Einhaus. "Short-Term Memories: The First World War in British Short Stories, 1914–39," Literature & History (2009) 18#1 pp 54–67.
  • McCartney, Helen B. "The First World War soldier and his contemporary image in Britain," International Affairs (2014) 90#2 pp 299–315.
  • Wolford, Scott. "Teaching the First World War in 'Real Time'" (2015). online

Further reading

  1. ^ a b c d e Tucker & Roberts (2005), p 504
  2. ^ a b "The war and the changing face of British society". National Archives. Retrieved 2009-05-16. 
  3. ^ Gregory (2008); Pennell (2012)
  4. ^ a b Baker (1921) p 21
  5. ^ a b c d Trueman, Chris. "Total war". History Learning Site. Retrieved 2009-05-17. 
  6. ^ a b c d Beckett (2007), pp 394–395
  7. ^ a b c d Beckett (2007), pp 341–343
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h Beckett (2007), pp 455–460
  9. ^ Braybon (1990)
  10. ^ Braybon (2005)
  11. ^ a b c d e The War Office (1992), p. 339
  12. ^ a b c Mitchell (1931), p 12
  13. ^ a b c d Beckett (2007), p 564
  14. ^ a b c Pierce (1992), p 5
  15. ^ Adrian Gregory (2008). The Last Great War: British Society and the First World War. Cambridge UP. p. 10.  
  16. ^ a b c Beckett (2007), pp 38–9
  17. ^ a b c d e Beckett (2007), pp 499–500
  18. ^ a b Barry McGill, "Asquith's Predicament, 1914–1918," Journal of Modern History (1967) 39#3 pp. 283–303 in JSTOR
  19. ^ John Grigg, Lloyd George: War Leader 1916–1918 (2002) vol 4 pp 1–30
  20. ^ A. J. P. Taylor, English History, 1914–1945 (1965) pp 73–99
  21. ^ The Oxford Library of Words and Phrases. Oxford University Press. 1981. p. 71. 
  22. ^ A. J. P. Taylor, English History, 1914–1945 (1965) pp 100–106
  23. ^ John Grigg, Lloyd George: War Leader 1916–1918 (2002) vol 4 pp 478–83
  24. ^ Alan J. Ward, "Lloyd George and the 1918 Irish Conscription Crisis," Historical Journal (1974) 17#1 pp. 107–129 in JSTOR
  25. ^ Grigg, Lloyd George vol 4 pp 465–88
  26. ^ John Gooch, "The Maurice Debate 1918," Journal of Contemporary History (1968) 3#4 pp. 211–228 in JSTOR
  27. ^ John Grigg, Lloyd George: War leader, 1916–1918 (London: Penguin, 2002), pp 489–512
  28. ^ A. J. P. Taylor, English History, 1914–1945 (1965) pp 108–11
  29. ^ Trevor Wilson, "The Coupon and the British General Election of 1918," Journal of Modern History, (1964) 36#1 pp. 28–42 in JSTOR
  30. ^ Wilson, The Downfall of the Liberal Party: 1914–1935 (1966) pp 135–85
  31. ^ Nicolson (1952), p 308
  32. ^ "The Royal Family name". Official web site of the British monarchy. Retrieved 2009-05-08. 
  33. ^ Nicolson (195), p 310
  34. ^ "Titles Deprivation Act 1917". office of public sector information. Retrieved 2009-05-17. 
  35. ^ At George's wedding in 1893, 7 July 1893, p 5)
  36. ^ Nicolson (1952), p 301
  37. ^ Rose (1983), p 210
  38. ^ Roberts (2000), p 41
  39. ^ Ziegler (1991), p 111
  40. ^ Duke of Windsor (1998), p 140
  41. ^ Bradford (1989), pp 55–76
  42. ^  
  43. ^ Thornton-Cook (1977), p.229
  44. ^ Beckett (2007), Chronology
  45. ^ a b Beckett (2007), p 348
  46. ^ FitzRoy, Sir Almeric William, Clerk of the Privy Council (14 August 1914). "Part 1: General Regulations" (PDF). The London Gazette (28870). p. 3. It shall be lawful for the competent naval or military authority ... (a) to take possession of any land ... (b) to take possession of any buildings or other property 
  47. ^ FitzRoy, Sir Almeric William, Clerk of the Privy Council (14 August 1914). "Part 2: Regulations specially designed to prevent persons communicating with the enemy ..." (PDF). The London Gazette (28870). p. 4. No person shall trespass on any railway, or loiter under or near any bridge, viaduct, or culvert, over which a railway passes. 
  48. ^ a b c d e f Beckett (2007), pp 380–382
  49. ^ FitzRoy, Sir Almeric William, Clerk of the Privy Council (14 August 1914). "Part 2: Regulations specially designed to prevent persons communicating with the enemy ..." (PDF). The London Gazette (28870). p. 4. No person shall ... communicate any information with respect to the movement or disposition of any of the forces, ships, or war materials ... or with respect to the plans of any naval or military operations 
  50. ^ a b Beckett (2007), p 383
  51. ^ "Treachery Bill". Hansard. Retrieved 2009-05-13. 
  52. ^ "British Army: Courts Martial: First World War, 1914–1918". National Archives. Retrieved 2009-05-16. 
  53. ^ Beckett (2007), p 289
  54. ^ Chandler (2003), p 211
  55. ^ Sondhaus (2001), p 161
  56. ^ a b "The First World War and the Inter-war years 1914–1939". Royal Navy. Retrieved 2009-05-14. 
  57. ^ a b "Battle of Jutland 1916". Royal Navy. Retrieved 2009-05-21. 
  58. ^ "The First World War and the Inter-war years 1914–1939". MOD UK, Royal Navy. Retrieved 2009-05-21. 
  59. ^ Beckett (2007), p 254
  60. ^ "The Royal Air Force History". Royal Air Force. Retrieved 2009-08-27. 
  61. ^ a b c d e f g h i Beckett (2007), pp 291–5
  62. ^ Professor  
  63. ^ a b c B. Lenman and J., Mackie, A History of Scotland (Penguin, 1991)
  64. ^ D. Coetzee, "A life and death decision: the influence of trends in fertility, nuptiality and family economies on voluntary enlistment in Scotland, August 1914 to December 1915", Family and Community History, November 2005, vol. 8 (2), pp. 77–89.
  65. ^ R. J. Q. Adams, "Delivering the Goods: Reappaising the Ministry of Munitions: 1915–1916." Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies (1975) 7#3 pp: 232–244 at p. 238 in JSTOR
  66. ^ Adams (1999), p 266
  67. ^  
  68. ^  
  69. ^ Silence in castle to honour First World War conscientious objectors dated 25 June 2013 at, accessed 19 October 2014
  70. ^ Beckett (2007), p 507
  71. ^ Taylor (2001), p 116
  72. ^ Tucker & Roberts (2005), p 709
  73. ^ Corbett Julian. "Yorkshire Coast Raid, 15–16 December 1914". Official History of the War, Naval Operations Vol. II. Retrieved 2009-05-26. 
  74. ^ Massie (2004), pp 309–311
  75. ^ His Majesty's stationery Office (1922), pp 674–677
  76. ^ "Damage by German Raids". UK Parliament "Hansard". Retrieved 2009-05-13. 
  77. ^ "German Attacks on Unfortified Towns". UK Parliament "Hansard". Retrieved 2009-05-13. 
  78. ^ Tucker, Wood & Murphy (2005), P.193
  79. ^ a b c d e f Beckett (2007), pp 258–261
  80. ^ Powers (1976), pp 50–51
  81. ^ Bourne (2001), p 10
  82. ^ Bourne (2001), p 20
  83. ^ "Air Raids". National Archives. Retrieved 2009-05-17. 
  84. ^ a b c d "Espionage, propaganda and censorship". National Archives. Retrieved 2009-05-17. 
  85. ^ 'War's Realities on the Cinema', The Times, London, August 22, 1916, p 3
  86. ^ a b c Paddock (2004), p 22
  87. ^ The London Gazette: no. 31427. p. 8221. 1 July 1919. Retrieved 2008-12-12.
  88. ^ McCreery (2005), pp 26–27
  89. ^ The London Gazette: no. 30533. p. 2212. 19 February 1918. Retrieved 2009-05-17.
  90. ^ Paddock (2004), p 24
  91. ^ Paddock (2004), p 16
  92. ^ Paddock (2004), p 34
  93. ^ "War Weeklies".  
  94. ^ Cryer (2009), p 188
  95. ^ Shepherd (2003), p 390
  96. ^ The Times on 21 September 1914.
  97. ^ Singh, Anita (13 February 2009). "Vera Brittain to be subject for film". London: Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2009-05-18. 
  98. ^ William Ashworth, An Economic History of England, 1870–1939 (1960) pp 265–84.
  99. ^ Tom Kington. "Recruited by MI5: the name's Mussolini. Benito Mussolini". 
  100. ^ David Stevenson (2011). With Our Backs to the Wall: Victory and Defeat in 1918. Harvard U.P. p. 370.  
  101. ^ Niall Ferguson, The Pity of War (1998) p 249
  102. ^ Steven Lobell, "The Political Economy of War Mobilization: From Britain's Limited Liability to a Continental Commitment," International Politics (2006) 43#3 pp 283–304
  103. ^ M. J. Daunton, "How to Pay for the War: State, Society and Taxation in Britain, 1917–24," English Historical Review (1996) 111# 443 pp. 882–919 in JSTOR
  104. ^ T. Balderston, "War finance and inflation in Britain and Germany, 1914–1918," Economic History Review (1989) 42#2 p p 222–244. in JSTOR
  105. ^ B.R. Mitchell, Abstract of British Historical Statistics (1962) p 371
  106. ^ Mitchell, Abstract of British Historical Statistics (1962) p 68
  107. ^ Adrian Gregory (2008). The Last Great War: British Society and the First World War. Cambridge U.P.  
  108. ^ Gail Braybon, Women Workers in the First World War: The British Experience (1990)
  109. ^ Samuel J. Hurwitz, (1949). State Intervention in Great Britain: Study of Economic Control and Social Response, 1914–1919. pp. 12–29.  
  110. ^ Condell & Liddiard (1987), p 18
  111. ^ Morrow (2005), p 202
  112. ^ Beckett attributes this quotation (page 382) to Margaret Barnett, but does not give further details.
  113. ^ Palmer (1992), pp 355–356
  114. ^ Bentley Gilbert, David Lloyd George: Organizer of Victory 1912–1916 (1992), pp 209–50
  115. ^ John Grigg, Lloyd George: From Peace to War 1912–1916 (1985) pp 223–56
  116. ^ "The war and the changing face of British society". The National Archives. Retrieved 2009-05-16. 
  117. ^ Beckett (2007), p 366
  118. ^ Beckett (2007), p 369
  119. ^ Harold F. Williamson, The American Petroleum Industry: the Age of Energy 1899–1959 (1963) 2:267
  120. ^ Daniel Yergin, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power (1991) pp 176–77
  121. ^ Ronald W. Ferrier; J. H. Bamberg (1982). The History of the British Petroleum Company: Volume 1, The Developing Years, 1901–1932. Cambridge UP. pp. A–13.  
  122. ^ a b Professor  
  123. ^ Susan R. Grayzel, "Nostalgia, Gender, and The Countryside: Placing the 'Land Girl' in First World War Britain," Rural History (1999) 10#2 pp 155–170.
  124. ^ Professor  
  125. ^ a b c Fraser (1918)
  126. ^ Law (1997), p 115
  127. ^ The Times, 25 November 1918.
  128. ^ Pamela Horn, Rural Life in England in the First World War (St. Martin's Press, 1984)
  129. ^ Peter E. Dewey, "British Farming Profits and Government Policy During the First World War." Economic History Review (1984) 37#3 pp: 373–390.
  130. ^ Peter E. Dewey, British Agriculture in the First World War (1989)
  131. ^ Bonnie White, The Women's Land Army in First World War Britain (2014)
  132. ^ Bonnie White, "Feeding the war effort: agricultural experiences in First World War Devon, 1914–17," Agricultural History Review (2010) 58#1 pp 95–112.
  133. ^ Kenneth O. Morgan (1981). Rebirth of a Nation: Wales, 1880–1980. Oxford UP. pp. 159–60.  
  134. ^ Adrian Gregory (2008). The Last Great War: British Society and the First World War. Cambridge UP.   ch 1
  135. ^ C. M. M. Macdonald and E. W. McFarland, eds, Scotland and the Great War (Edinburgh: Tuckwell Press, 1999)
  136. ^ D. Daniel, "Measures of enthusiasm: new avenues in quantifying variations in voluntary enlistment in Scotland, August 1914 – December 1915", Local Population Studies, Spring 2005, Issue 74, pp. 16–35.
  137. ^ Commonwealth War Graves Commission Annual Report 2010-2011, page 45.
  138. ^ Gilbert (1994), pp 674–678
  139. ^ Gilbert (1994), p 78
  140. ^ I. F. W. Beckett and K. R. Simpson, eds. A Nation in Arms: a Social Study of the British Army in the First World War (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1985) p. 11.
  141. ^ R. A. Houston and W. W. Knox, eds, The New Penguin History of Scotland (London: Penguin, 2001), p. 426.
  142. ^ a b J. Buchanan, Scotland (Langenscheidt, 3rd edn., 2003), p. 49.
  143. ^ Brian Bond (2002). The Unquiet Western Front: Britain's Role in Literature and History. Cambridge UP. pp. 62–63.  
  144. ^ Chris Wrigley, "The Impact of the First World War," in Chris Wrigley, ed., A Companion to Early Twentieth-Century Britain (2003) pp 502, 512
  145. ^ a b "Inflation value of the Pound" (PDF). House of Commons. Retrieved 2009-05-16. 
  146. ^ Taylor (2001), p 123
  147. ^ Taylor (2001), p 122
  148. ^ Barnett (2002), pp 424–426
  149. ^ a b Beaumont (1995), pp 125–148
  150. ^ Hennessey (1998), p 220
  151. ^ Ferguson (2004), p 315
  152. ^ Olson (1996), p 658


Further change came in 1919. With the Treaty of Versailles, London took charge of an additional 1,800,000 square miles (4,700,000 km2) and 13 million new subjects.[151] The colonies of Germany and the Ottoman Empire were distributed to the Allied powers (and to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa) as League of Nations mandates, with the United Kingdom at least gaining control of Palestine and Transjordan, Iraq, parts of Cameroon and Togo, and Tanganyika.[152] Indeed, the British Empire reached its territorial peak after the settlement.[13]

Less concrete changes include the growing assertiveness of the Dominions within the British Empire. Battles such as Gallipoli for Australia and New Zealand,[149] and Vimy Ridge for Canada led to increased national pride and a greater reluctance to remain subordinate to the United Kingdom.[14] These battles were often portrayed favourably in these nations' propaganda as symbolic of their power during the war.[14][149] The war released pent-up indigenous nationalism, as populations tried to take advantage of the precedent set by the introduction of self-determination in eastern Europe. Britain was to face unrest in Ireland (1919–21), India (1919), Egypt (1919–23), Palestine (1920–21) and Iraq (1920) at a time when they were supposed to be demilitarising.[13] Nevertheless, Britain's only territorial loss came in Ireland,[13] where the delay in finding a resolution to the home rule issue, along with the 1916 Easter Rising and a failed attempt to introduce conscription in Ireland, increased support for separatist radicals, and led indirectly to the outbreak of the Irish War of Independence in 1919.[150]

The war was a major economic catastrophe as Britain went from being the world's largest overseas investor to being its biggest debtor, with interest payments consuming around 40 percent of the national budget.[145] Inflation more than doubled between 1914 and its peak in 1920, while the value of the Pound Sterling fell by 61.2 percent. Reparations in the form of free German coal depressed the local industry, precipitating the 1926 General Strike.[145] During the war British private investments abroad were sold, raising £550 million. However, £250 million new investment also took place during the war. The net financial loss was therefore approximately £300 million; less than two years investment compared to the pre-war average rate and more than replaced by 1928.[146] Material loss was "slight": the most significant being 40 percent of the British merchant fleet sunk by German U-boats. Most of this was replaced in 1918 and all immediately after the war.[147] The military historian Correlli Barnett has argued that "in objective truth the Great War in no way inflicted crippling economic damage on Britain" but that the war only "crippled the British psychologically" (emphasis in original).[148]

Images of trench warfare became iconic symbols of human suffering and endurance. The post-war world had many veterans who were maimed or damaged by shell shock. In 1921 1,187,450 men were in receipt of pensions for war disabilities, with a fifth of these having suffered serious loss of limbs or eyesight, paralysis or lunacy.[144]

The horrors of the Western Front as well as Gallipoli and Mesopotamia were seared into the collective consciousness of the twentieth century. To a large extent the understanding of the war in popular culture focused on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Historian A.J.P. Taylor argued, "The Somme set the picture by which future generations saw the First World War: brave helpless soldiers; blundering obstinate generals; nothing achieved."[143]

Legacy and memory

With a population of 4.8 million in 1911, Scotland sent 690,000 men to the war, of whom 74,000 died in combat or from disease, and 150,000 were seriously wounded.[140][141] At times Scottish troops made up large proportions of the active combatants, and suffered corresponding loses, as at the Battle of Loos, where there were three full Scots divisions and other Scottish units.[63] Thus, although Scots were only 10 per cent of the British population, they made up 15 per cent of the national armed forces and eventually accounted for 20 per cent of the dead.[142] Some areas, like the thinly populated Island of Lewis and Harris suffered some of the highest proportional losses of any part of Britain.[63] Clydeside shipyards and the engineering shops of west-central Scotland became the most significant centre of shipbuilding and arms production in the Empire. In the Lowlands, particularly Glasgow, poor working and living conditions led to industrial and political unrest.[142]

The civilian death rate exceeded the prewar level by 292,000, which included 109,000 deaths due to food shortages and 183,577 from Spanish Flu.[11] The 1922 War Office report detailed the deaths of 1,260 civilians and 310 military personnel due to air and sea bombardment of the United Kingdom.[138] Losses at sea were 908 United Kingdom civilians and 63 fisherman killed by U-boat attacks.[139]

The [137]

A second publication, Casualties and Medical Statistics (1931), the final volume of the Official Medical History of the War, gives British Empire Army losses by cause of death.[12] The total losses in combat from 1914 to 1918 were 876,084, which included 418,361 killed, 167,172 died of wounds, 113,173 died of disease or injury, 161,046 missing presumed dead and 16,332 died as a prisoner of war.[12]

In the post war publication Statistics of the Military Effort of the British Empire During the Great War 1914–1920 (The War Office, March 1922), the official report lists 908,371 'soldiers' as being either killed in action, dying of wounds, dying as prisoners of war or missing in action in the World War. (This is broken down into the United Kingdom and its colonies 704,121; British India 64,449; Canada 56,639; Australia 59,330; New Zealand 16,711; South Africa 7,121.)[11] Listed separately were the Royal Navy (including the Royal Naval Air Service until 31 March 1918) war dead and missing of 32,287 and the Merchant Navy war dead of 14,661.[11] The figures for the Royal Flying Corps and the nascent Royal Air Force were not given in the War Office report.[11]

Poster for a fundraising event in support of Welsh troops by Frank Brangwyn


Scotland's distinctive characteristics have attracted significant attention from scholars.[135] Unlike England, Scotland specialized in providing manpower, ships, machinery, food (particularly fish) and money. Daniel shows it supported the war effort with widespread enthusiasm.[136]

[133] However Adrian Gregory points out that the Welsh coal miners, while officially supporting the war effort, refused the government request to cut short their vacation time. After some debate, the miners agreed to extend the working day.[134]

The War had a profound influence upon rural areas, as the U-boat blockade required the government to take full control of the food chain, as well as agricultural labor. Cereal production was a high priority, and the Corn Production Act of 1917 guaranteed prices, regulated wage rates, and required farmers to meet efficiency standards. The government campaigned heavily for turning marginal land into cropland.[128][129][130] The Women's Land Army brought in 23,000 young women from the towns and cities to milk cows, pick fruit and otherwise replace the men who joined the services.[131] More extensive use of tractors and machinery also replaced farm laborers. However, there was a shortage of both men and horses on the land by late 1915. County War Agricultural Committees reported that the continued removal of men was undercutting food production because of the farmers' belief that operating a farm required a set number of men and horses.[132]

Regional conditions

[2] More generally, the war has been credited, both during and after the conflict, with removing some of the social barriers that had pervaded Victorian and Edwardian Britain.[127] 1918, where he stated "What is our task? To make Britain a fit country for heroes to live in."23 November The new coalition government of 1918 charged itself with the task of creating a "land fit for heroes", from a speech given in

Following the war, millions of returning soldiers were still not entitled to vote.[125] This posed another dilemma for politicians since they could be seen to be withholding the vote from the very men who had just fought to preserve the British democratic political system. The Representation of the People Act 1918 attempted to solve the problem, enfranchising all adult males as long as they were over 21 years old and were resident householders.[125] It also gave the vote to women over 30 who met minimum property qualifications. The enfranchisement of this latter group was accepted as recognition of the contribution made by women defence workers,[125] though the actual feelings of members of parliament (MPs) at the time is questioned.[8] In the same year the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918 allowed women over 21 to stand as MPs.[126]

The war also caused a split in the British suffragette movement, with the mainstream, represented by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter Christabel's Women's Social and Political Union, calling a 'ceasefire' in their campaign for the duration of the war. In contrast, more radical suffragettes, like the Women's Suffrage Federation run by Emmeline's other daughter, Sylvia, continued their (at times violent) struggle. Women were also allowed to join the armed forces in a non-combatant role[8] and by the end of the War 80,000 women had joined the armed forces in auxiliary roles such as nursing and cooking.[124]

When the government targeted women early in the war focussed on extending their existing roles – helping with Belgian refugees, for example—but also on improving recruitment rates amongst men. They did this both through the so-called "Order of the White Feather" and through the promise of home comforts for the men while they were at the front. In February 1916, groups were set up and a campaign started to get women to help in agriculture and in March 1917, the Women's Land Army was set up. One goal was to attract middle-class women who would act as models for patriotic engagement in nontraditional duties. However the uniform of the Women's Land Army included male overalls and trousers, which sparked debate on the propriety of such cross-dressing. The government responded with rhetoric that explicitly feminized the new roles.[123] In 1918, the Board of Trade estimated that there were 148,000 women in agricultural employment, though a figure of nearly 260,000 has also been suggested.[8]

First World War poster

Variously throughout the war, serious shortage of able-bodied men ("manpower") occurred in the country, and women were required to take on many of the traditional male roles, particularly in the area of arms manufacture; though this was only significant in the later years of the war, since unemployed men were often prioritised by employers.[8] Women both found work in the munitions factories (as "munitionettes") despite initial trade union opposition, which directly helped the war effort, but also in the Civil Service, where they took men's jobs, releasing them for the front. The number of women employed by the service increased from 33,000 in 1911 to over 102,000 by 1921.[122] The overall increase in female employment is estimated at 1.4 million, from 5.9 to 7.3 million,[8] and female trade union membership increased from 357,000 in 1914 to over a million by 1918—an increase of 160 percent.[122] Beckett suggests that most of these were working class women going into work at a younger age than they would otherwise have done, or married women returning to work.[8] This taken together with the fact that only 23 percent of women in the munitions industry were actually doing men's jobs, would limit substantially the overall impact of the war on the long-term prospects of the working woman.[8]

Social change

Fuel oil for the Royal Navy was the highest priority. In 1917, the Royal Navy consumed 12,500 tons a month, but had a supply of 30,000 tons a month from British Petroleum, using BPs oil wells in Persia.[121]

Energy was a critical factor for the British war effort. Most of the energy supplies came from coal mines in Britain, where the issue was labour supply. Critical however was the flow of oil for ships, lorries and industrial use. There were no oil wells in Britain so everything was imported. The U.S. pumped two-thirds of the world's oil. In 1917, total British consumption was 827 million barrels, of which 85 percent was supplied by the United States, and 6 percent by Mexico.[119] The great issue in 1917 was how many tankers would survive the German u-boats. Convoys and the construction of new tankers solved the German threat, while tight government controls guaranteed that all essential needs were covered. An Inter-Allied Petroleum Conference allocated American supplies to Britain, France and Italy.[120]


It was only as late as December 1917 that a War Cabinet Committee on Manpower was established, and the British government refrained from introducing compulsory labour direction (though 388 men were moved as part of the voluntary National Service Scheme). Belgian refugees became workers, though they were often seen as "job stealers". Likewise, the use of Irish workers, because they were exempt from conscription, was another source of resentment.[117] Worried about the impact of the dilution of labour caused by bringing external groups into the main labour pool, workers in some areas turned to strike action. Voluntary agreements with trade unions in the early stages of the war became official with the advent of the Munitions of War Act in June 1915, which also placed restrictions upon the speed with which workers could move from job to job.[118]

[7] and a year's worth of pre-war production of light munitions could be completed in just four days by 1918. Aircraft production in 1914 provided employment for 60,000 men and women; by 1918 British firms employed over 347,000.[116],187 million, just two million rounds of shells had been sent to France; by the end of the war the figure had reached April 1915 By [115][114] Although Britain faced a controversial [7] Total British production fell by ten percent over the course of the war; there were, however, increases in certain industries such as steel.

Belgian refugees work forging shell cases


In January 1917, Germany started using U-boats (submarines) in order to sink Allied and later neutral ships bringing food to the country in an attempt to starve Britain into surrender under their unrestricted submarine warfare programme. One response to this threat was to introduce voluntary rationing in February 1917,[48] a scheme said to have been endorsed by the king and queen themselves.[110] Bread was subsidised from September that year; prompted by local authorities taking matters into their own hands, compulsory rationing was introduced in stages between December 1917 and February 1918,[48] as Britain's supply of wheat stores decreased to just six weeks worth.[111] It is said to have in the most part benefited the health of the country,[48] through the 'levelling of consumption of essential foodstuffs'.[112] To assist with rationing, ration books were introduced on 15 July 1918 for butter, margarine, lard, meat, and sugar.[113] During the war, average calories intake decreased only three percent, but protein intake six percent.[48]

In line with its "business as usual" policy, the government was initially reluctant to try to control the food markets.[109] It fought off efforts to try to introduce minimum prices in cereal production, though relenting in the area of controlling of essential imports (sugar, meat and grains). When it did introduce changes, they were only limited in their effect. In 1916, it became illegal to consume more than two courses whilst lunching in a public eating place or more than three for dinner; fines were introduced for members of the public found feeding the pigeons or stray animals.[48]

A document says
A British government wartime leaflet detailing the consequences of breaking the rationing laws


Women were available and many entered munitions factories and took other home front jobs vacated by men.[108]

The economy (in terms of GDP) grew about 14% from 1914 to 1918 despite the absence of so many men in the services; by contrast the German economy shrank 27%. The War saw a decline of civilian consumption, with a major reallocation to munitions. The government share of GDP soared from 8% in 1913 to 38% in 1918 (compared to 50% in 1943).[100][101] The war forced Britain to use up its financial reserves and borrow large sums from the U.S.[102] Shipments of American raw materials and food allowed Britain to feed itself and its army while maintaining his productivity. The financing was generally successful,[103] as the City's strong financial position minimized the damaging effects of inflation, as opposed to much worse conditions in Germany.[104] Overall consumer consumption declined 18% from 1914 to 1919.[105] Trade unions were encouraged as membership grew from 4.1 million in 1914 to 6.5 million in 1918, peaking at 8.3 million in 1920 before relapsing to 5.4 million in 1923.[106] In Scotland, the shipbuilding industry expanding by a third.[107] The trade unions enthusiastically supported the war, apart from the coal miners who were much less enthusiastic.

On the whole the British successfully managed the economics of the war. There had been no prewar plan for mobilization of economic resources. Controls were imposed slowly, as one urgent need followed another.[98] With the City of London the world's financial capital, it was possible to handle finances smoothly; in all Britain spent 4 million pounds everyday on the war effort.[99]


There was also a notable group of war poets who wrote about their own experiences of war, which caught the public attention. Some died on active service, most famously Rupert Brooke, Isaac Rosenberg, and Wilfred Owen, while some, such as Siegfried Sassoon survived. Themes of the poems included the youth (or naivety) of the soldiers, and the dignified manner in which they fought and died. This is evident in lines such as "They fell with their faces to the foe", from the "Ode of Remembrance" taken from Laurence Binyon's For the Fallen, which was first published in The Times in September 1914.[96] Female poets such as Vera Brittain also wrote from the home front, to lament the losses of brothers and lovers fighting on the front.[97]

War poets

[95]".Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit-Bag, boosting British morale despite the horrors of that war, was "marching song and music hall Another song from 1916, which became very popular as a [94], which helped contribute to its worldwide popularity.Florrie Forde singer music hall by the well-known pantomime, it was sung in a November 1914. In British Army 1914. The song was then picked up by other units of the 18 August On 13 August 1914, the Irish regiment the


The public's thirst for news and information was in part satisfied by news magazines, which were dedicated to reporting the war. They included amongst others The War Illustrated, The Illustrated War News, and The War Pictorial, and were lavishly filled with photographs and illustrations, regardless of their target audience. Magazines were produced for all classes, and ranged both in price and tone. Many otherwise famous writers contributed towards these publications, of which H.G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle and Rudyard Kipling were three examples. Editorial guidelines varied; in cheaper publications especially it was considered more important to create a sense of patriotism than to relay up-to-the-minutes news of developments of the front. Stories of German atrocities were commonplace.[93]

News magazines

The most popular papers of the period included dailies such as The Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Morning Post, weekly newspapers such as The Graphic and periodicals like John Bull, which claimed a weekly circulation of 900,000.[91] The public demand for news of the war was reflected in the increased sales of newspapers. After the German Navy raid on Hartlepool and Scarborough, the Daily Mail devoted three full pages to the raid and the Evening News reported that The Times had sold out by a quarter past nine in the morning, even with inflated prices.[92] The Daily Mail itself increased in circulation from 800,000 a day in 1914 to 1.5 million by 1916.[6]

Newspapers during the war were subject to the Defence of the Realm Act, which eventually had two regulations restricting what they could publish:[86] Regulation 18, which prohibited the leakage of sensitive military information, troop and shipping movements; and Regulation 27, which made it an offence to "spread false reports", "spread reports that were likely to prejudice recruiting", "undermine public confidence in banks or currency" or cause "disaffection to His Majesty".[86] Where the official Press Bureau failed (it had no statutory powers until April 1916), the newspaper editors and owners operated a ruthless self-censorship.[6] Having worked for government, press barons Viscount Rothermere,[87] Baron Beaverbrook (in a sea of controversy),[88] and Viscount Northcliffe[89] all received titles. For these reasons, it has been concluded that censorship, which at its height suppressed only socialist journals (and briefly the right wing The Globe) had less effect on the British press than the reductions in advertising revenues and cost increases which they also faced during the war.[6] One major loophole in the official censorship lay with parliamentary privilege, when anything said in Parliament could be reported freely.[86] The most infamous act of censorship in the early days of the war was the sinking of HMS Audacious in October 1914, when the press was directed not to report on the loss, despite the sinking being observed by passengers on the liner RMS Olympic and quickly reported in the American press.[90]


Propaganda and censorship were closely linked during the war.[84] The need to maintain morale and counter German propaganda was recognised early in the war and the War Propaganda Bureau was established under the leadership of Charles Masterman in September 1914.[84] The Bureau enlisted eminent writers such as H G Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling as well as newspaper editors.[84] By the summer of 1915, the Bureau had printed over 2.5 million books, speeches, official documents and pamphlets.[84] Masterman also commissioned films about the war such as The Battle of the Somme, which appeared in August 1916, while the battle was still in progress as a morale-booster and in general it met with a favourable reception. The Times reported on 22 August 1916 that "Crowded audiences ... were interested and thrilled to have the realities of war brought so vividly before them, and if women had sometimes to shut their eyes to escape for a moment from the tragedy of the toll of battle which the film presents, opinion seems to be general that it was wise that the people at home should have this glimpse of what our soldiers are doing and daring and suffering in Picardy".[85]



Throughout 1917 Germany began to deploy increasing numbers of fixed-wing bombers, the Gotha G.IV's first target being Folkestone on 25 May 1917, following this attack the number of airship raids decreased rapidly in favour of raids by fixed wing aircraft,[79] before Zeppelin raids were called off entirely. In total, Zeppelins dropped 6,000 bombs, resulting in 556 dead and 1,357 wounded.[80] Soon after the raid on Folkestone, the bombers began raids on London: one daylight raid on 13 June 1917 by 14 Gothas caused 162 deaths in the East End of London.[79] In response to this new threat, Major General Edward Bailey Ashmore, a RFC pilot who later commanded an artillery division in Belgium, was appointed to devise an improved system of detection, communication and control,[81] The system, called the Metropolitan Observation Service, encompassed the London Air Defence Area and would later extend eastwards towards the Kentish and Essex coasts. The Metropolitan Observation Service was fully operational until the late summer of 1918 (the last German bombing raid taking place on 19 May 1918).[82] During the war, the Germans carried out 51 airship raids and 52 fixed-wing bomber raids on the United Kingdom, which together dropped 280 tons of bombs. The casualties amounted to 1,413 killed, and 3,409 wounded.[83] The success of anti-air defence measures was limited; of the 397 aircraft that had taken part in raids, only 24 Gothas were shot down (though 37 more were lost in accidents), despite an estimated rate of 14,540 anti-air rounds per aircraft. Anti-zeppelin defences were more successful, with 17 shot down and 21 lost in accidents.[79]

German zeppelins bombed towns on the east coast, starting on 19 January 1915 with Great Yarmouth.[79] London was also hit later in the same year, on 31 May.[79] Propaganda supporting the British war effort often used these raids to their advantage: one recruitment poster claimed: "It is far better to face the bullets than to be killed at home by a bomb" (see image). The reaction from the public, however, was mixed; whilst 10,000 visited Scarborough to view the damage there, London theatres reported having fewer visitors during periods of "Zeppelin weather"—dark, fine nights.[79]

Air raids

Poster: picture of Zeppelin illuminated by searchlight over silhouetted London skyline; headline:
British propaganda poster from 1915, drawing on the fear of zeppelin attacks to aid recruitment

In April 1916 a German battlecruiser squadron with accompanying cruisers and destroyers bombarded the coastal ports of Yarmouth and Lowestoft. Although the ports had some military importance, the main aim of the raid was to entice out defending ships which could then be picked off either by the battlecruiser squadron or by the full High Seas Fleet, which was stationed at sea ready to intervene if an opportunity presented itself. The result was inconclusive: nearby Royal Navy units were too small to intervene so largely kept clear of the German battlecruisers, and the German ships withdrew before first the British fast response battlecruiser squadron or the Grand Fleet could arrive.[78]

Bombardment of Yarmouth and Lowestoft

In December 1914, the German navy carried out attacks on the British coastal towns of Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby. The attack resulted in 137 fatalities and 593 casualties,[75] many of which were civilians. The attack made the German navy very unpopular with the British public, as an attack against British civilians in their homes. Likewise, the British Royal Navy was criticised for failing to prevent the raid.[76][77]

Britannia stands in front of a group of men holding various armaments, looking out over a scene of burning houses. The caption reads
British propaganda fuelled by the German raid on Scarborough

The Raid on Yarmouth, which took place in November 1914, was an attack by the German Navy on the British North Sea port and town of Great Yarmouth. Little damage was done to the town itself, since shells only landed on the beach once German ships laying mines offshore were interrupted by British destroyers. One British submarine was sunk by a mine as it attempted to leave harbour and attack the German ships, while one German armoured cruiser was sunk after striking two mines outside its own home port.[74]

Naval raids

At the start of the First World War, for the first time since the Napoleonic Wars, the population of the British Isles was in danger of attack from naval raids. The country also came under attack from air raids by zeppelins and fixed-wing aircraft, another first.[72][73]

A map of England, with towns bombarded during the war marked. All are in the east.
German bombardments were concentrated on the east coast of England

Naval and air raids

The conscription legislation introduced the right to refuse military service, allowing for conscientious objectors to be absolutely exempted, to perform alternative civilian service, or to serve as a non-combatant in the army, according to the extent to which they could convince a Military Service Tribunal of the quality of their objection. Around 16,500 men were recorded as conscientious objectors,[61] with Quakers playing a large role. 4,500 objectors were sent to work on farms to undertake "work of national importance", 7,000 were ordered non-combatant duties as stretcher bearers, but 6,000 were forced into the army, and when they refused orders, they were sent to prison, as in the case of the Richmond Sixteen.[69] Some 843 conscientious objectors spent more than two years in prison; ten died while there, seventeen were initially given the death penalty (but received life imprisonment) and 142 were imprisoned on life sentences.[70] Conscientious objectors who were deemed not to have made any useful contribution were disenfranchised for five years after the war.[71]

Conscientious objectors

. Anglo-Irish War, one of the precursors of the Irish general election party in the December 1918 Sinn Féin who were defeated outright by the separatist republican Irish Party Ultimately the effect was a total loss of interest in Home Rule and of popular support for the nationalist [68]".continental countries 1918, work was stopped in railways, docks, factories, mills, theatres, cinemas, trams, public services, shipyards, newspapers, shops, and even official munitions factories. The strike was described as "complete and entire, an unprecedented event outside the 23 April As a result, a general strike was called, and on [67] Despite significant numbers [61] Though this ultimately never materialised, the effect was "disastrous".[61] In April 1918 legislation was brought forward which allowed for extension of conscription to Ireland.

Conscription Crisis of 1918

The policy of relying on volunteers had sharply reduced the capacity of heavy industry to produce the munitions needed for the war. Historian R. J. Q. Adams reports that 19% of the men in the iron and steel industry entered the Army, 22% of the miners, 20% in the engineering trades, 24% in the electrical industries, 16% among small arms craftsmen, and 24% of the men who had been engaged in making high explosives.[65] In response critical industries were prioritised over the army ("reserved occupations"), including munitions, food production and merchant shipping.[61]

Urban centres, with their poverty and unemployment were favourite recruiting grounds of the regular British army. Dundee, where the female dominated jute industry limited male employment had one of the highest proportion of reservists and serving soldiers than almost any other British city.[63] Concern for their families' standard of living made men hesitate to enlist; voluntary enlistment rates went up after the government guaranteed a weekly stipend for life to the survivors of men who were killed or disabled.[64] After the introduction of conscription from January 1916 every part of the country was affected.

Recruitment remained fairly steady through 1914 and early 1915, but fell dramatically during the later years, especially after the Somme campaign, which resulted in 500,000 casualties. As a result, conscription was introduced for the first time in January 1916 for single men, and extended in May–June to all men aged 18 to 41 across England, Wales and Scotland, by way of the Military Service Acts.[61][62]

Particularly in the early stages of the war, many men, for a wide variety of reasons, decided to "join up" to the armed forces—by 5 September 1914, over 225,000 had signed up to fight for what became known as Kitchener's Army.[61] Over the course of the war, a number of factors contributed to recruitment rates, including patriotism, the work of the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee in producing posters, dwindling alternative employment opportunities, and an eagerness for adventure to escape humdrum routine.[61] Pals battalions, where whole battalions were raised from a small geographic area or employer, also proved popular. Higher recruitment rates were seen in Wales and Scotland, though in the case of the Welsh and Irish, political tensions tended to "put something of a blight upon enlistment".[61]

Poster by the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee, featuring St. George and the Dragon.

Recruitment and conscription

At the start of the war, the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), commanded by David Henderson, was sent to France and was first used for aerial spotting in September 1914, but only became efficient when they perfected the use of wireless communication at Aubers Ridge on 9 May 1915. Aerial photography was attempted during 1914, but again only became effective the next year. In 1915 Hugh Trenchard replaced Henderson and the RFC adopted an aggressive posture. By 1918, photographic images could be taken from 15,000 feet (4,600 m), and interpreted by over 3,000 personnel. Planes did not carry parachutes until 1918, though they had been available since before the war.[59] On 17 August 1917, General Jan Smuts presented a report to the War Council on the future of air power. Because of its potential for the 'devastation of enemy lands and the destruction of industrial and populous centres on a vast scale', he recommended a new air service be formed that would be on a level with the army and navy. The formation of the new service however would make the under utilised men and machines of the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) available for action across the Western Front, as well as ending the inter-service rivalries that at times had adversely affected aircraft procurement. On 1 April 1918, the RFC and the RNAS were amalgamated to form a new service, the Royal Air Force (RAF).[60]

A poster reads
Royal Flying Corps recruitment poster

British air services

In 1914, the navy had also formed the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division from reservists, and this served extensively in the Mediterranean and on the Western Front.[58] Almost half of the Royal Navy casualties during the War were sustained by this division, fighting on land and not at sea.[56]

The major part of the Royal Navy's strength was deployed at home in the Grand Fleet, with the primary aim of drawing the German High Seas Fleet into an engagement. No decisive victory ever came. The Royal Navy and the German Imperial Navy did come into contact, notably in the battle of Heligoland Bight, and the battle of Jutland.[56] In view of their inferior numbers and firepower, the Germans devised a plan to draw part of the British fleet into a trap and put it into effect at Jutland in May 1916, but the result was inconclusive. In August 1916, the High Seas Fleet tried a similar enticement operation and was "lucky to escape annihilation".[57] The lessons learned by the Royal Navy at Jutland made it a more effective force in the future.[57]

The Royal Navy at the start of the war was the largest navy in the world due, in the most part, to The Naval Defence Act 1889 and the two-power standard which called for the navy to maintain a number of battleships such as their strength was at least equal to the combined strength of the next two largest navies in the world, which at that point were France and Russia.[55]

Four battleships at sea
Ships of the 2nd Battle Squadron of the Royal Navy's Grand Fleet

Royal Navy

The British Army during World War I was small in size when compared to the other major European powers. In 1914, the British had a small, largely urban English, volunteer force[53] of 400,000 soldiers, almost half of whom were posted overseas to garrison the British Empire. (In August 1914, 74 of the 157 infantry battalions and 12 of the 31 cavalry regiments were posted overseas.[1]) This total included the Regular Army and reservists in the Territorial Force.[1] Together they formed the British Expeditionary Force (BEF),[54] for service in France and became known as the Old Contemptibles. The mass of volunteers in 1914–1915, popularly known as Kitchener's Army, was destined to go into action at the battle of the Somme.[1] In January 1916, conscription was introduced, and by the end of 1918, the army had reached its peak of strength of four million men.[1]

A large throng of people congregate, surrounded by police officers. Approximately half wear peaked caps; the rest wear boaters. Some smile, the rest look pensive.
August 1914: London army volunteers await their pay at St. Martin-in-the-Fields


His Majesty's forces

The first Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) was passed on 8 August 1914, during the early weeks of the war,[44] though in the next few months its provisions were extended.[45] It gave the government wide-ranging powers,[45] such as the ability to requisition buildings or land needed for the war effort.[46] Some of the things the British public were prohibited from doing included loitering under railway bridges,[47] feeding wild animals[48] and discussing naval and military matters.[49] British Summer Time was also introduced.[50] Alcoholic beverages were now to be watered down, pub closing times were brought forward from 12.30 am to 10 pm, and, from August 1916, Londoners were no longer able to whistle for a cab between 10 pm and 7 am.[50] It has been criticised for both its strength and its use of the death penalty as a deterrent[51] – although the act itself did not refer to the death penalty, it made provision for civilians breaking these rules to be tried in army courts martial, where the maximum penalty was death.[52]

Defence of the Realm Act

Other members of the royal family were similarly involved. The Prince Albert, Christmas Gift FundPrincess Mary's , through which £162,000 worth of gifts was sent to all British soldiers and sailors for Christmas 1914.[42] She took an active role in promoting the Girl Guide movement, the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD), the Land Girls and in 1918, she took a nursing course and went to work at Great Ormond Street Hospital.[43]

William S. Sims, USN

The Prince of Wales – the future Edward VIII – was keen to participate in the war but the government refused to allow it, citing the immense harm that would occur if the heir to the throne were captured.[38] Despite this, Edward witnessed trench warfare at first hand and attempted to visit the front line as often as he could, for which he was awarded the Military Cross in 1916. His role in the war, although limited, led to his great popularity among veterans of the conflict.[39][40]

[37] Developments in Russia posed another set of issues for the monarchy.

King George V (right) with his first cousin Tsar Nicholas II, Berlin, 1913

On 17 July 1917, to appease British nationalist feelings, King George issued an Prince Louis of Battenberg, became Louis Mountbatten, 1st Marquess of Milford Haven, while his brother-in-law, the Duke of Teck, became Adolphus Cambridge, 1st Marquess of Cambridge. Others, such as Princess Marie Louise of Schleswig-Holstein and Princess Helena Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein, simply stopped using their territorial designations. The system for titling members of the royal family was also simplified.[33] Relatives of the British royal family who fought on the German side were simply cut off; their British peerages were suspended by a 1919 Order in Council under the provisions of the Titles Deprivation Act 1917.[34]

The British [31]

"A good riddance"
A 1917 Punch cartoon depicts King George sweeping away his German titles.


[30] In the

Collapse of the Liberal Party

[28] Meanwhile, the German offensive stalled and was ultimately reversed. Victory came on November 11, 1918.[27][26], a senior army officer on active duty, Major-General 7 May 1918 On

Despite strong warnings that it was a bad idea, the War Cabinet decided to impose conscription on Ireland in 1918. The main reason was that labour in Britain demanded it as the price for cutting back on exemptions for certain workers. Labour wanted the principle established that no one was exempt, but it did not demand that conscription should actually take place in Ireland. The proposal was enacted, but never enforced. The Roman Catholic bishops for the first time entered the fray, calling for open resistance to compulsory military service, while the majority of Irish nationalists moved to supporting the intransigent Sinn Féin movement (away from the constitutional Irish National Party). This proved a decisive moment, marking the end of Irish willingness to stay inside the Union.[24][25]

[23] The Germans, having moved troops from the Eastern front and retrained them in new tactics, now had more soldiers on the Western Front than the Allies. On 21 March 1918 Germany launched a full scale [22] In rapid succession in spring 1918 came a series of military and political crises.

David Lloyd George (c. 1920), prime minister at the end of the war

[17] Its creation marked the transition to a state of [5] In the first 235 days of its existence, the War Cabinet met 200 times.[20][19] Lloyd George immediately set about transforming the British war effort, taking firm control of both military and domestic policy.

This coalition government lasted until 1916, when the Unionists became dissatisfied with Asquith and the Liberals' conduct of affairs, particularly over the coalition government.[17] Asquith was still the party head but he and his followers moved to the opposition benches in Parliament.[18]

Lloyd George as Prime Minister

Asquith's Liberal government was brought down in May 1915, due in particular to a crisis in inadequate artillery shell production and the failed Gallipoli Campaign in the Dardanelles.[17] Reluctant to give in to demands for an election, Asquith proceeded to form a new coalition government on 25 May, with the majority of the new cabinet coming from his own Liberal party and the Unionist (Conservative) party brought in to shore up the government.[17] By January 1915, 184 members of parliament were serving with the armed forces.[17]

The British Empire entered the World War with Herbert Henry Asquith of the Liberal Party as British prime minister. Asquith declared war on the German Empire on 4 August 1914, in response to the demands for military passage that were forced upon Belgium by Germany, and the expiration of Britain's own ultimatum at 11 p.m. that day.[16] Britain's reasons for declaring war were complex: the Treaty of London of 1839 had committed the United Kingdom to safeguard Belgium's neutrality in the event of invasion, but the Foreign Office had already concluded that the treaty might not apply. Extensive secret talks regarding Britain's 'moral commitment' to France had been going on since 1905, but most members of Asquith's cabinet were not privy to them until 1911.[16] This lack of proof that war was unavoidable had led to disagreement within the cabinet as late as 31 July.[16]

Head of a white-haired gentleman with prominent eyebrows and a firm expression, wearing a wingtip collar
Herbert Henry Asquith (c. 1915), prime minister at the start of the war



  • Government 1
    • Lloyd George as Prime Minister 1.1
    • Collapse of the Liberal Party 1.2
  • Monarchy 2
  • Defence of the Realm Act 3
  • His Majesty's forces 4
    • Army 4.1
    • Royal Navy 4.2
    • British air services 4.3
  • Recruitment and conscription 5
    • Conscription Crisis of 1918 5.1
    • Conscientious objectors 5.2
  • Naval and air raids 6
    • Naval raids 6.1
    • Bombardment of Yarmouth and Lowestoft 6.2
    • Air raids 6.3
  • Media 7
    • Propaganda 7.1
    • Newspapers 7.2
    • News magazines 7.3
    • Music 7.4
    • War poets 7.5
  • Economy 8
    • Rationing 8.1
    • Industry 8.2
    • Energy 8.3
  • Social change 9
  • Regional conditions 10
  • Casualties 11
  • Legacy and memory 12
  • Footnotes 13
  • Further reading 14
    • Politics and royalty 14.1
    • Empire 14.2
    • Economics 14.3
    • Propaganda and popular culture 14.4
    • Women, family and society 14.5
    • Historiography and memory 14.6
  • External links 15
The verdict of popular culture is more or less unanimous. The First World War was stupid, tragic and futile. The stupidity of the war has been a theme of growing strength since the 1920s. From Robert Graves, through 'Oh! What a Lovely War' to 'Blackadder Goes Forth,' the criminal idiocy of the British High Command has become an article of faith."[15]

Military historians continue to debate matters of tactics and strategy. However, in terms of memory of the war, historian Adrian Gregory argues that:

The civilian death rate rose due to food shortages and Spanish Flu, which hit the country in 1918.[11] Military deaths are estimated to have exceeded 850,000.[12] The Empire reached its zenith at the conclusion of peace negotiations.[13] However, the war heightened not only imperial loyalties but also individual national identities in the dominions (Canada, Newfoundland, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa) and India. Irish nationalists after 1916 moved from collaboration with London to demands for immediate independence (see Easter Rising), a move given great impetus by the Conscription Crisis of 1918.[14]

Newspapers played an important role in maintaining popular support for the war.[6] Large quantities of propaganda were produced by the government under the guidance of such journalists as Charles Masterman and newspaper owners such as Lord Beaverbrook. By adapting to the changing demographics of the workforce (or the "dilution of labour", as it was termed), war-related industries grew rapidly, and production increased, as concessions were quickly made to trade unions.[7] In that regard, the war is also credited by some with drawing women into mainstream employment for the first time.[8] Debates continue about the impact the war had on women's emancipation, given that a large number of women were granted the vote for the first time in 1918. The experience of individual women during the war varied; much depended on locality, age, marital status and occupation.[9][10]

. aerial bombardments of cities in Britain the first time this had been seen in Britain. The war also witnessed the first [5]

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