Was WWI a total war for Britian? Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 4 September 2017

Was WWI a total war for Britian?

Total war means that all the resources of a nation (economic, social,political or cultural ) are harnessed to the war effort. Everybody and everything is involved. World War I can in many ways seem like a total war for Britian. It was a time of great change, and resources that were previously untouched were used to advance the war effort. Women, for example, were used for the first time as workers in the munitions industry. By the end of the war, over 60% of British munitions workers were women. But although there was a lot of change, there continuity present throughout.

All women were still expected to produce children, and were encouraged: evidence of this can be seen in National Baby Week, 1st – 7th July, 1917. Some women did not work throughout the war. Men who worked in key industries like coal mining or agriculture were forbidden to join the army and so there was little change for them. The Governments introduction of DORA increased its power over society even more, and to achieve Total War, the government needed power over the whole society. When the munitions crisis occurred, the government had to take control of the industry by taking over factories and setting new ones up.

Its power over society was shown when in 1914 acts were passed that limited pub opening hours, increased the price of beer and suspended the Whitsun, Guy Fawkes night and th August Bank holiday. The government did not just mobalize the nation, it called upon the Empire to provide soldiers and raw materials to help the war effort. As a result, 2. 5 million colonials fought for Britian. The realities of war were realised as British people became targets of German Zeppelins, and later on in the war food shortages.

The war began to affect every individual: very few people could carry on with life as before the war. Women were used by the government to great effect in the munitions industry and as workers on agricultural land. Their role in society changed as a result of that, and eventually, in 1928, all women over the age of 21 were granted the right to vote, the same as men. But, for some women, there was very little change during the war for them. They continued to stay at home, bring up the children, and look after the house. For many women 107 working was a short term change; after the war they went back to not working.

Before 1914, jobs available to women were limited to unskilled or domestic work, and only after the war more highly paid jobs were available only to those who had education, usually the upper class. Yet evidence of Total War can also be seen by the way womens lives changed after the war, and the view of women in society. Men saw them as more of an equal so new careers were available, like being lawyers, doctors or secretaries. A move towards total war must have to occured to have produced that effect. As the men of Britian volunteered or were conscripted into the army, they left behind them a massive shortfall of workers.

The government tried to fill these places with a previously untapped supply of labour – women. A move towards Total War can be seen here by the government harnessing yet another resource: in 1914, 212,000 women were employed in the munitions industry. By 1918, that number had risen to 919,000. Initially, the new, unskilled women workers produced many faulty shells, one third of all shells used in the battle of the somme failed to go off. It is clear then, in 1916 total war had not been achieved, as women had failed to have been harnessed effeciently.

But later on in the war, women became more adept at making the munitions so there was an advance to Total war. Womens work in the Land army played an important role in maximising the output from the land. It was necessary to continue harvesting food from the land as the action of the U-Boats on the merchant convoys reduced the food imports into the country by one quarter. Other jobs became available to women included law enforcement, sometimes in factories, steel workers, transport drivers, road repairers. The women workers began to threaten the mens’ jobs as they showed that they could work as effeciently as men yet with much lower wages, up to one third of the mens.

As the war progressed, women were employed in different jobs in the army to try and free all men who could fight. These included desk, office and driving jobs. The political consequences of allowing women to work were profound. Only by achieving total war, or by almost achieving total war, could the government have been convinced that women were more equal to men than they thought. Women like Emmeline Pankhurst had been campaigning for votes for women since before the war. After women had experienced the independance of living on their own, and of working for a living, they felt that the next step was the right to vote.

This was granted to all women over the age of 30 in 1918. In 1928, finally women over 21 were permitted to vote. Finally, they had equal voting rights to men. After the war, womens role in society was seen in a completely different light. After having proved themselves capable of working, many upper class, well educated women were able to qualify for more highly paid jobs, like doctors, lawyers, and being on jurys. Lower class women were able to get work as well but not of the same pay as upper class women because of their poor education. A lot of women rejected working in domestic service after the war because it did not offer enogh pay.

Women were able to claim themselves as equals to men after the war, after having made a huge contribution to the war effort, and society recognised this by granting them the right to vote in 1918. Women saw change in the way they dressed. New fashions were brought about by the need for more practical clothing in the workplace. Skirts became shorter, and those women who worked on farms in particular began to wear trousers. Long hairstyles were unsuited to factory work and so they became shorter.

But women were still expected to perform their original role in society, like producing and looking after children, cooking, housekeeping, even if they were working. In this way womens role in socity did not change, as after the war, most women (even who had been employed during the war years) were doing what they did before the war.

When the munitions crisis occurred in July 1915, the government showed a move towards total war by increasing its power over different aspects of the British economy and industry. Factories producing munitions were taken over, and new ones were set up to maximise production. The government exercised its control even more by often fixing prices of materials for the munitions industry, to reduce profits.

New labour for these factories was found in the form of unemployed women, and the government subsequently employed them. To try and mobalize the country achieve total war, the government used propaganda to great effect. The first military disasters that could have demoralised the nation and destroyed the war effort were covered up by cencoring newspapers and refusing journalists to travel to the front line. All news was filtered through the governments own press office, and soldiers letters were also restricted in content and censored.

Very few people in Britian realised the atrocities that were taking place overwseas. Instead, heroic, patriotic accounts of happenings at the front line were published along with vague details of how the campaigns were progressing. Combined with this was the great patriotic feeling of the nation, and its enthusiasm for the war. Recruitment for the army in early years was high: 500,000 men signed up in the first month. Propaganda played an important part in this, persuading many people of their duty to fight for their country.

This can be shown by the “your country needs you”advertisemet which was very successful. Young men were also tempted by the promise of travel, excitment and adventure. Films were shown of patriotic nature as well. As the war progressed, and especially during the Battle of the Somme in 1916, the casualties became hard to hide. To prevent the nation becoming distrustful of its government, a revolutionary film titled “The Battle of the Somme” was produced in august 1916 showing the complete horrors of war, including apparently dead and dying soldiers. Most people were shocked by the film. Some people applauded the realism of it, but nearly everbody continued with no refreshed patriotism, but a grim determination.

As this war was different from any the British had fought before, different propaganda techiniques were needed to maintain an optimum war effort. This change in type of propganda corresponds with the advance towards Total War. The factors that caused Herbert Asquith to form the coalition government in May 1915 prove that huge changes were taking place to harness the resources of Britian to try to achieve a total war. At the outbreak of war, Asquiths liberal party were in power. Asquith immediatlety had to introduce strategies that his fellow liberals would disagree with upon grounds of their ‘free country’ ideals.

Liberal critics of Asquith felt that he interfered too much with the countrys economy. Asquith enforced the DORA, and was granted powers like the power to take over British industries, set prices for materials, and censor media like newspapers. Many liberals resigned from the party so Asquith was forced to form a coalition with the conservative party, the second most major party. What happened to Britians food supply does in many ways support the idea that there was a move towards total war.

Before 1917, there was not a major problem with food, as plenty of farm labourers and imports meant that there was enough. But in early 1917, German U-boats were introduced and they began targeting British merchant ships. At this time, more than one quarter of all ships leaving British ports were sunk by U-Boats. The government began to increase the food production in Britian. It encouraged the sowing of crops on unused land, and even requisitioned 2. 5million acres of farmland in April 1917 to advance the war effort. The government introduced a voluntary rationing scheme in November 1917, but it was a failure, as food prices began to rise and queues got longer.

To increase its power further, Llyod George introduced a compulsory rationing schemein Southern Britian and London on February 25th 1918. It was extended in April to the whole country. The rationing had an immediate impact and allowed more resources to be concentrated on the front line. Rationing also showed how the effects of war were brought home to the nation. Total War effects everybody and it had just extended its control over the country. WWI, for the British government, was very expensive. To raise money for the Total War they called upon the nation and overseas colonies which represented a lot of wealth.

Out of all the classes, the rich were taxed heavily to provide funds for the war. This was most of the tax money was used for, and in 1918 80% of government spending was on this. Although they did not welcome it, they managed to bear the burden without too much discomfort. Income tax rose from 1s 3d in the pound to 4 years later 6s in the pound, in 1918. The result was a massive increase of government revenue from income tax with i?? 721 million collected in 1919-1920, a rise of i?? 626 million in 6 years. Combined with this War Bonds and military contracts brought even more money.

Control over society was greatly increased during the war to advance the war effort. After the government introduced DORA, it passed several new laws through it. The laws affected peoples social lives in ways that had never been done before. Problems in production occcured when workers turned up drunk to work in key industries like munitions. This resulted in acts being passed that restricted pub opening times to 5am to 12. 30am in London. (Although intended to be a short term change, this act remained in place until 1989). Also, tobacco and alchohol was taxed, beer watered down and buying of rounds made illegal.

The laws worked: in 1918 convictions of drunkenness were 90% less than in 1914. Production was further increased by suspending the August Bank Holidays, Whitsun, and Guy Fawkes night. The suspension of holidays lasted the duration of the war, and the acts increased government revenue and helped the move towards Total War. The British empire provived the britian with a lot of the necessary raw materials needed for the war. It demonstrated its move towards total war by harnessesing these resources and so adding to the war effort. Britian relied heavily on conscripted soldiers from its colonies.

2. 5million colonials fought for britian overseas, and 20% of the whole empires casualties came from these. The raw material imports were significant too. British imports from canada were i?? 29 million in the years 1910 – 1914, and increased to i?? 86 million during 1915 – 1920. Although the government did not achieve Total war, but since there was opposition to the war it shows that the government was taking steps to mobalizing the country. During the early years of war there was little opposition. There was a great feeling of patriotism and of wanting to go to war.

However, as soon as the government began moving towards Total War resistance was felt. When conscription was introduced in 1916, there were those who did not support it. 50 MPs voted against it, and of those who refused to fight some simply refused to kill Germans; they were found jobs like stretcher bearers or as drivers at the front line. The government punished ‘concienteous objectors’ by sentancing them to prison, executing them or forcing them to do hard labour as it was fearful of demoralising the nation, but even in 1918, people were very hostile towards ‘conchies’.

There were very few concientous obejectors in any case, as only 16,000 out of 8,000,000 men refused to join the army. Opposition to the government also resulted in Lloyd George becoming Prime Minister in December 1916, after Asquith was criticised of not conducting the war with enough vigour. The experiences of war that the British people had suggests that almost or actual Total War occurred. During 1914 to 1918, many british were directly endangered by the war. On December the 16th, 1914, British civilians were for the first time targeted by, and shelled by German warships at Scarbourogh.

At that stage in the war, the consequences proved to be an even stronger dermination to have victory over the Germans. During the course of the war, 1500 civilians were killed, which eventually made many citizens of Britian feel no longer safe. Of all ot the classes, many people believe the upper class suffered the most from the consequenses the most. They suffered the highest class casualties, and were targeted financially by the government for additional funds. Young officers were instructed to lead their soldiers over the top, and often got killed first, as those in command were targeted by the Germans especially.

Free Was WWI a total war for Britian? Essay Sample


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  • University/College: University of Arkansas System

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  • Date: 4 September 2017

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