The Home Front
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The Home front

The first world war was the first time Britain had been involved in a total war. All members of society contributed to the war effort at home and on the front line. Meaning the publics lives were greatly effected by the war.



The Defense of the Realm act (DORA) was passed on the 8th August 1914, right at the beginning of the war. DORA gave the the government new powers over the publics lives, here are a few examples:

  • Being able to take over industries to provide factories to make wartime materials (e.g.. munitions factories). The government also set up there own state run munitions factories mainly employing women.
  • Being able to take over transport links, such as railways, to be used for transport of war materials.
  • Introduce conscription in 1916.
  • Introduce rationing in 1918.
  • Censor information and newspapers.
  • Jail suspected spies and hoarders without trial.
  • Forbid rumours or negative comments being spread about the war.

Conscription and Recruitment

When the war started in August 1914, there were millions of men who voluntarily joined up to fight. Reasons for this include:

  • People thought the war would be over by Christmas- Britain would easily win.
  • People thought it would be an adventure.
  • Seemed right to fight for king and country.
  • People joined with friends- peer pressure.
  • There was pressure to join or be seen as a coward.
  • People didn't know what horrors would be awaiting them.

However, the war did not end Christmas 1914 and recruitment numbers fell, reasons for this include:

  • People had begun to learn of the horrors of trench warfare, due to soldiers coming back from the front line.
  • Some of the most able bodied men were not signing up.
  • All of the people who wanted to sign up, joined in 1914, so there weren't as many people willing to go to war.

Despite this there was an increasing need for soldiers on the front line. To solve this problem the government introduced conscription for all single men aged 18-41 in January 1916. The numbers still weren't enough, so in May 1916, this was extended to married men. Many people thought this was a fair system, as men were chosen at random, and no areas of society were alienated.

People who objected to conscription were called 'conscientious objectors', these people often had religious reasons not to fight and would often take part in non-violent war work such as driving ambulances, if they did not want to do this they would be sent to prison (as they were seen as traitors).


By 1917 food supplies were beginning to run low, this was due to the following factors:

  • The German blockade of Britain- German U-boats (submarines) sank 1 in 4 merchants ships entering Britain. Before 1914 Britain imported a lot of its food from the USA or countries in the empire.
  • People were worried that they would run out of food, therefore people hoarded food. Resulting in shops having to close early as they ran out of supplies.
  • Men who used to be farm labourers were away fighting, so there were less men able to tend the fields.

How did the government deal with the food shortages?

  • Send convoys to protect merchant ships, after this measure <1% of merchant ships were sank.
  • Introduced voluntary rationing, as massive poster campaign was used to encourage people not to waste food, this didn't work so in 1918 compulsory rationing was introduced.
  • Made wasting food illegal under DORA.
  • Introduced the women's land army (WLA), this was a huge, new labour force that cultivated the land.

Recruitment and Propaganda

During World War 1 the government used propaganda in various ways to keep the public on their side. Their main aims and examples of propaganda include:

  • Keeping support for the war up and maintaining moral.
  • Getting people to join the armed forces.
  • Causing hatred of the Germans.
  • Propaganda was used in children's toys to support the war and cause people to hate the Germans.

In 1916 the government sanctioned the release of the film 'the battle of the Somme', some of the footage was from the real battle and some shot in Britain, but the film was so realist it could be seen as anti-war, naturally the graphic nature of seeing men dying upset many viewers.

This video looks at some of the propaganda of World War 1 from the British and French sides.

Attitudes to the war

At the start of the was most peoples attitudes were positive, they thought the war would be over by Christmas, and men were proud to fight for king and country. However, by the end of the war attitudes were very negative with the vast majority of society wanting to see the end. This was due to the vast amount of men dying on the battlefield, civilians being killed by zeppelins (German airships that dropped bombs) and the German Navy (a total of 1500 civilians died over the course of the war), and some saw rationing as a hard ship. However there were some positive outcomes of the war such as the changing roles of women within society and the new opportunities they received. 

A poster of John Bull (seen below), the typical representation of the British. John Bull appears to be pointing demandingly at 'you', putting guilt on any person looking at the poster and not having joined the army. The poster makes it appear as if joining the army is your duty and not optional. The troops have gaps between them, this suggests that these gaps are for the missing men who have yet to join.

John Bull Propoganda poster

At the start of WW1 in 1914 there was only 250,000 men in the army. This meant the army would need to recruit hundred of thousands of extra troops to win the war with Germany. 


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