The Effect of Battle of the Somme on British Attitudes Towards the War

The Effect of Battle of the Somme on British Attitudes Towards the War

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The Effect of Battle of the Somme on British Attitudes Towards the War

When considering this question there are two types of attitudes to be
considered: military and civilian attitudes. To many, the Somme is
seen as a turning point for both the military and the civilians. It is
seen as a wake-up call. It is made out as if support for the war, both
in the army and back in Britain faltered after the Somme. It is a fact
that in the early part of the war both civilians and soldiers were
under false illusions about the war. Patriotism was the overwhelming
feeling everywhere, and recruitment was amazingly high. People were
enthusiastic to join the war. They believed that the war would be over
by Christmas. We need to discover if, in what way and to what extent
these attitudes changed as a consequence of the Battle of the Somme.

Some would argue that the Somme changed military attitudes from
enthusiasm and eagerness to disenchantment and horror. There was a
small minority of soldiers who did show these feelings after the
Somme. There were 16,000 conscientious objectors who refused to fight.
Comparatively this was a minute figure. In fact, Britain was the only
one of the major armies not to have significant opposition to the war.
There was a slight increase in executions for military offences, from
94 in 1916 to 102 in 19171. However, this increase is negligible and
this is still a minute proportion of the army. There was also some
opposition from 'War Poets' such as Sassoon, Owen and McCrae. However,
'War Poets' were also a small minority, and were not all against the
war. Sassoon's opposition came in June 1917, seven months after the
end of the Somme. But it emerges that military attitudes did change,
but not necessarily for the worse. Referring to the British Army, "…it
was aware of the awful realities of war, yet grimly determined to
fight on to victory."2 The Somme was a harsh awakening. False
illusions quickly faded and were replaced by a true image of the

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courage and bravery needed and the thrill and sense of achievement
gained by representing your country.

Back in England, some press attention was given to the Battle of the
Somme. The civilians were previously in full support of the war.
However, this press attention was propagandised and did not show the
truth of the Somme. There were some short films, which had an affect
on the public. The opinion that pacifism was unpatriotic remained
after the Somme. There were some organized protests, such as 'The
Women's Peace Crusade', but the fact that they were "making house to
house calls"3 somewhat restricts the scale of this protest
considerably. Perhaps "The Battle of the Somme did seem to change the
mood in Britain", but it did not really affect the attitudes towards
the War.

In conclusion, the Battle of the Somme did not change British
attitudes significantly against the war. It did have an affect in
changing the military attitudes, but not for the worse. Civilian
attitudes remained constant. If there was a turning point in attitudes
towards the war, it was in 1917, after Passchendale, and not after the
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