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The Impact of World War One on Britain

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The Impact of World War One on Britain

World War One or the Great War had made a big impact to life in
Britain affecting several areas of life such as Economy and Industry,
social class structure and the role of government.

Many changes that occurred have lasted and evolved over the years.

As Arthur Marwick in "The Deluge" commented those changes marking a
new age in Britain would have happen even if there had been no war,
although more slowly. Socialism, the Suffragettes movement and Trade
unions for example were happening before the war.

Socialism was the idea of pointing out that common goals and social
needs were more important than individual ones. This principle was
associated with the interests of the working class but was seen by the
government as radical and so was not welcomed.

The Socialist policy appeared first as early as the 1800's and was put
forward by political activists. However, this idea developed more
fully during the 19th century, because Trade unions representing the
workers had grown in major industries.

These trade unions lead to the formation of the labour party.

Before World War 1 the Labour party was only a small party with only
30 seats in parliament, as Extract G, poverty and politics, 1880-1910
Letts history study guide states. The impact of the war was such that
labour party joined a coalition government set up by the liberals. The
idea was that all the parties help lead the country during the war, As
source f (from the home front booklet) states the labour party
chairman, Arthur Henderson joined the cabinet, therefore the labour
party got a role in government for the first time. The labour party
was further helped by the fact that the liberal party was suffering
from internal disputes from which it could not recover. As a
consequence, the Liberal prime minister was forced out of office.

At the beginning of World War One the Trade unions were threatening
major strikes. They were putting a lot of pressure on the Liberal
government requesting that much more should be done for the workers.
They were asking for higher wages and better working conditions.
During the war they agreed not to strike in return for the
government's agreement to give the workers higher wages and improve
their working conditions.

Although WW1 contributed to the changes within the Labour party and
Trade unions, it is also true these changes began to occur before the
war. In the years leading up to the war the living conditions of the
working conditions were extremely poor while the rich were living in
luxury. "Some union leader called for all the unions to join together
in a massive strike. This would bring both industry and the government
to their knees and the unions could then take over the running of the
country". Quoted from The rise of socialism home front research
booklet. Strikes broke out in 1910.

In 1911 one million workers went of strike, According to a photograph
(see below) taken in 1912 when London was running out of food due to a
transport strike.


In 1930 the railway men, the transport workers and the miners teamed
up in an attempt to organize a general strike of all the workers,

As the extract from the rise of socialism home front research booklet
states, "the government would have been defeated by these powerful
unions if the war had not broken out".

As for The Labour party, they began to adopt socialists ideas in 1901,
long before the Great War started.

[IMAGE]To understand how the war affected the role of women it is
important to know what role they played in the society before the
Great War. Women were expected to raise children and take care of
their husbands and home. They were not allowed to vote in elections
very few women worked out side the home, were paid less than men and
generally were not equal with men. A group of women who were trying to
achieve equality with men were called The Suffragettes. During the war
men left their jobs to fight and many jobs in transport and industry
became free. The country needed transport and industry to run and so
the government decided to employ women to do these jobs. Women soon
proved they were as capable as men. Source A (see below) in the home
front research booklet shows women working in a munitions factory in

Some women in particular from the upper/middle class worked as nurses
as source B, a recruitment poster for nurse, shows.


After the war, munitions factories closed down and many women lost
their jobs. Women were expected to return the jobs back to the men
when they came back from fighting. However many women got the taste
for working and higher responsibility and liked it. They wanted to
keep their jobs. This was a difficult situation as unemployment was
high and men wanted their jobs back. Two years after the war there
were fewer women working than before the war.

This could be interpreted by some as the war did not change the role
of women in the society. It is also possible to say the role of women
did not change as the suffragettes were already active before the war.
However the women have pressed the government to give them the right
to vote. Source C, from the home front research booklet shows how
women were campaigning for there right to vote


The new women role made them more confident. They changed their way of
dressing and behaving. They cut hair short, smoked cigarettes and
drank cocktails. Source F from the home front research booklet shows
the new style of dressing called the flapper style.


In December 1917, a bill was passed giving the vote to all women over
30 and to women 21 or over who were either homeowners or married to
homeowners. Although this was very restrictive it was a big step
closer to equality.

During WW1 the role of government changed. The government before the
war had a Laissez faire attitude to running the country. This meant
that it would let the economy and industry run its self and not
interfere unless needed. This could no longer be the government's view
as the country needed to run effectively in order to protect its
people and win the war. To do this the government introduced new laws,
such as The Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) in 1914. Under DORA the
people of Britain were not allowed to:

* Fly a kite

* Give bread to dogs, chickens or horses

* Talk about military affairs in public places

The government of Britain could:

* Try any civilian for braking these laws

* Take any land it needed

Source E from The Home Front by Peter Caddick-Adams gives evidence for
how DORA gave the government power to control its land and people


When the war broke out people panicked and bought a lot of food which
they keep at their homes which caused a food shortage problem. The
government tried through DORA to reduce consumption of food.

Source C tells how the country's food intake had lessened.
"Consumption of sugar fell between 1914 to 1918 from 1.49lb to
0.93lb." This example shows that government's intervention was
successful in this case.

The poster in source D gives an example of how the government used
propaganda to reduce the amount of coal burnt. (See poster below)

The poster was a simple method of propaganda used to tell the people
of the consequences of their action. Before the war posters of this
kind were not used by the government but since then they have been
used and continue to affect England ever since.


There is evidence that the government began to change even before the
Great War. Between 1900 and 1914 the government became more active.
The liberal party introduced new social policies to help ordinary
people. Source 1 gives an example of social reforms such as:

* From 1903-1913 more money was spent on children's education

* In1906 Workmen's Compensations Act was introduced, protecting
workers who were injured at work or caught a disease at work,
giving them a right to compensation.

* In 1908 Old Age Pensions was introduced for people over seventy

* In 1911 National Insurance Act was gave workers sickness benefit
and free medical care.

Before the war the Laissez Fair attitude of the Liberal party caused a
huge class system in Great Britain. There was very little government
interference. Women had no votes, with a position of a second class
citizen. When the war began some changes were already happening but
the war acted as a catalyst and sped up those changes or any about to
happen. The government had to intervene by introducing DORA to help
the country function more efficiently.

Every body was helping the country win the war. All this resulted in
long term social changes some of which are still with us today.

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
"The Impact of World War One on Britain." 19 Apr 2014

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