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The First World War greatly changed the lives of civilians living in Britain. When the war first broke out, there was a tremendous feel of euphoria and patriotism.
In the first four weeks after the declaration of war, over 500 000 men had enlisted in the army. This was partially due to the belief that it would be over by Christmas, and was the opportunity for a holiday; government posters also played a part in the persuading of people to enlist. A popular government poster was that of Lord Kitchener, pointing at ‘YOU’ and with a caption that read… ‘ Your king and country need YOU’.
In 1914 the government passed a law that gave them power over civilians daily lives, this was known as DORA (The defence of the realm act). It allowed the government to seize any buildings or land they needed which would contribute to the war effort. This also included the take over of industries. As soon as this law was passed the government immediately seized coalmines. This was an important industry in the contribution towards the war effort. An act under ‘DORA’ was that of the watering down of beer in breweries, this was so that to keep workers focused once they returned from their lunch break. This was one of the stranger acts but yet it was obeyed and carried out.
‘DORA’ also had the power over the media and newspapers. This was so that civilians saw what the government wanted them to see. This therefore kept the general enthusiasm about the war on a high, and the public did not know the true horrors of trench warfare, nor the massive number of casualties and deaths the British army had suffered.
Contrary to popular beliefs the British government also produced propaganda. This was in the form of posters. One poster depicts a German as a ‘mad brute’, another showed Germans murdering babies. Both of these posters encouraged Britons to hate the Germans. Another form of Government propaganda was that of a film, released in 1916, it was of the battle of the Somme. Many scenes in this film were staged and were not real. This gave the public who watched it the idea of brave and heroic soldiers fighting the war. This film was a success for the Government, as people did not question the films realism and welcomed it gladly.
In 1915, Lloyd George became in charge of the ‘munitions crisis’. This crisis was that there were not enough people working in the key industries. People tended to go for the job that had better pay. He attempted to solve this problem by forcing people to stay in the factories where the government needed them most. Another way he tried was by introducing women into the factories, where once this had stereotypically been seen as the males’ job. This annoyed trade unions as they believed women would work for less and therefore would dilute the male’s wages. To make unions co operate they had to promise that they would pay women the same wage as men, and that as soon as the war was over women would not be kept on.
The war really changed the role of women in society as, as men were going to war, jobs were being left unfulfilled. Lloyd George decided that women were as good and as skilled as men to carry out their jobs. Lloyd George and Emily Pankhurst both encouraged women to work in munitions factories. In 1915, 100 000 women registered for jobs but only 5000 were actually given them. This was due to opposition from trade unions. Another government scheme was set up named… ‘
Women’s Land Army’ this was were women were recruited as farm workers, to grow crops and vegetables. This would contribute to the war effort. A slogan on a government poster read ‘Dig For Victory’. Any other jobs that had been once seen as the male’s job had been undertaken by woman and in many cases women could do the job just as good and sometimes better then the men. The fulfilment of these jobs helped dismiss the pre-war belief about women being incapable of doing ‘men’s jobs’. Due to the huge part women played in the war, in 1917 a bill was passed allowing women over the age of 33 the right to vote.
In 1916, the government passed another law known as ‘the military service act’ this made all men between 18 and 40 eligible for active service. This was due to the decreasing amount of people volunteering to enlist in the war. Many people were angry at this act, as some did not want to join for political reasons and others because of their religion. These people were names ‘conchies’.
By 1917, there was serious concern for the supply of food Britain had left. This was due to the sinking of British merchant ships by German U-Boats. As less and less food was being imported, the small amount of food that was still in circulation within Britain became expensive and many of the prises rose. Voluntary rationing was introduced in May 1917, but proved unsuccessful. So in 1918, compulsory rationing was introduced. This meant that people had to cut down on the amount of sugar, butter, meat and beer that they consumed. They managed to do this by giving everyone a book of coupons in which they bought food. Penalties were forced on those who broke the rationing rules.
The First World War was the first war where Britons came under direct attack from the enemy. This was due to German bombers and Zeppelin warships. In 1915, German bombers bombarded Scarborough in which many innocent people had been killed. The government decided to use this to their advantage and encouraged people to avenge the attack on Scarborough by joining the army, yet again, here is British government propaganda.
To conclude my essay I believe civilian life was greatly affected in World War 1. The war brought around the right for women to vote; conscription, compulsory rationing and also it changed many people’s views about war.